Is Maine’s population too old and white to be sustainable?

PORTLAND, Maine — The number of annual deaths in Maine has eclipsed the number of births for the first time in recent history, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and economists in the state fear the trend will shrink the work force and make doing business here more and more expensive.

The arrival of what’s known as a natural population decrease in Maine doesn’t come as a complete surprise for a state with the oldest and whitest population — two demographic groups that statistically bear the fewest children — of any in the nation.

But Maine is crossing that threshold sooner than economists expected, and the pattern may accelerate what many believe will be a labor crisis in the state. As its glut of baby boomers retire and die, fewer Mainers are born and grow up to replace them in the workplace.