Boston Fed report cites ME work force, health care challenges

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has released its quarterly New England Community Outlook Survey, and notes challenges facing Maine both in terms of work force development and proposed healthcare spending cuts.

The fourth-quarter survey looks at the situation in all New England states. It “asks service providers to comment on changes in the financial and economic conditions of the region’s low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities and the organizations that serve them,” according to the report.

Fed authors wrote:

Once again, service providers ranked job availability, state and local budget cuts, federal budget cuts, access to affordable housing, and adequate adult work force development as the top five challenges facing LMI communities

In Maine-specific comments:

Expectations for the next quarter suggest optimism regarding continued improvement in job availability, with more service providers expecting job availability to increase (30.5 percent) than to decrease (20 percent).

“The manufacturing sector appears to have stabilized and is looking for qualified workers. Unfortunately, work force development cuts have limited training opportunities for these jobs.” – Southern Maine

Service providers in Maine also “expressed concerns over the projected effect on lower-income individuals of the MaineCare/Medicaid budget cuts proposed in December 2011.

The cuts are aimed at closing a $121 million shortfall in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services budget. The Maine Center for Economic Policy projects that the cuts would impact services to 65,000 people and would cost the state almost 4,500 jobs. Proponents of the cuts say that without the cuts, the state would need a tax hike that would cost the state 6,400 jobs.

However, over the last year, average rents went down in Maine and Vermont, and the cities of Providence, R.I., and Concord, N.H., while they went up in Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to the report.