15 Pros and Cons of Living in Bangor, Maine

A small mountain in Maine, filled with tree, bordering a smooth lake. The reflection of the trees can be seen on the water surface. Lake grass is seen in the foreground

Once known as the lumber capital of the world, Bangor is a 35-square mile tract of land sitting in the center of Maine’s vast coastline. It is one of a few urban areas in a state otherwise filled with vast acres of forests.

The state of Maine was originally inhabited by the indigenous Penobscot peoples, who lived modest lives as migratory hunters and gatherers. Europeans visited the Bangor area starting in the 1500s to trade animal pelts, but the first formal settlement of Bangor didn’t occur until Jacob Buswell founded a site in 1769. The town was incorporated in 1791 with a population of 567 and a thriving sawmill. 

By 1860, Bangor was the largest lumber port in the world, operating 150 sawmills along the river. They shipped over 150 million board feet of lumber annually, much of which was shipped on boats built by the companies of Bangor. As steal and steam began to take hold of the world, the sawmills of Bangor moved from lumber production to paper/pulp production. The paper mills also eventually closed due to global competition. 

Today, Bangor is home to 30K residents that brave the frozen winters in search of a simpler, less expensive way of life.

5 Pros of Living in Bangor, Maine

Pro #1: Beautiful, Empty Woodlands

There is a reason Maine is nicknamed the Pine Tree State:

  • 90% of the state is forested, the highest of any state in the US. 
  • It is also the most rural state in the country, with 61% of its population living outside of an urban area. 
  • At 43 people per square mile, Maine is the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River, with a density half of the US average.
  • The state has huge tracts of uninhabited land. For instance, the Northwest Aroostook unorganized territory is 2,668 square miles in size and has a population of just 10 people. 

So, if you like the thought of seeing more moose than people, then Maine might be a perfect fit for you.

In addition to trees, Maine is known for its waters

  • 3,478 miles of tidal shoreline, slightly more than California
  • More than 6,000 lakes and ponds; only half of which have been named
  • Over 3,000 islands
  • It is just an hour away from beautiful, but tourist-heavy, Acadia National Park.

Given the above stats, it’s obvious that the resident of Bangor enjoys access to an unlimited amount of parks and outdoor recreational opportunities. 

Pro #2: Houses are Affordable

The average house in Bangor sells for $145K versus the US average of $231K. The average home in Bangor is 60 years old, a reflection of the development that occurred in the 1960s (and hasn’t much occurred since). 

Rental costs are also low in Bangor at a median of $816 per month versus the US average of $1,097.

Overall, the cost of living is 17% lower than the US average. You’ll pay less for housing and transportation, but you’ll pay above average for utilities, healthcare, and groceries.

Pro #3: Lots of Jobs in Healthcare

The unemployment rate in Bangor is 5%, a bit less than the national average of 6%. So there are jobs to be found in the city.

The largest employers are healthcare-related

  • Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center
  • Northern Light Health
  • St. Joseph Hospital
  • Penobscot Community Healthcare
  • Acadia Hospital

And the second-largest source of jobs is in retail:

  • Hannaford Bros Company (a grocery store chain)
  • Walmart / Sam’s Club
A comic style drawing of Paul Bunyan raising an axe, his blue ox in the background

In the 1860s, Bangor was known as the lumber capital of the world, and the town has a 31-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan to commemorate its lumberjack history. However, today, there are very few jobs related to lumber in the Bangor area; those jobs exist closer to the vast forests of Maine’s inland. 

Pro #4: Beautiful Weather for Half of the Year

Residents of Bangor brag about their pleasant weather for three seasons of the year; a crisp Spring and Fall averaging around 50-60 degrees, and Summers maxing out at 80 degrees. If you are the type of person who melts in “hot weather”, then Bangor is a good fit for you.

We won’t talk about the other six months of the year (until we get to Con # 1)

Pro #5: Easy Access to Work and Abroad

Most of the folks who live in Bangor also work in Bangor. The average commute is only 16 minutes each way. Traffic jams and rush hour traffic are foreign concepts for residents. 

The city of Bangor enjoys easy access to I95, providing straightforward access to the larger cities in southern Maine (Portland and Augusta), and access to Canada to the north. Reminder, Maine is not a small state; you would travel 300 miles (5 hours) on I95 to get from bottom to top. 

The city also features Bangor International airport; the largest airport in Maine and the largest in the region outside of Boston. This airport started as a civilian airport in 1921, was taken over by the US Military during WWII and renamed Dow Air Force Base, and was then turned back over to civilian use in 1968. This airport is further east than any other American airport, making it the shortest route between Europe and America.

Related: What State is More Tax-Friendly: Nevada or California?

10 Cons of Living in Bangor, Maine

Unfortunately for Bangor, writing a list of cons for the city was much easier than writing a list of pros.

Con#1: Its Cold Six Months of the Year

A slow moving Maine river, covered in ice, snowy land seen in the foreground and background

In the above Pro #4, we advertise the beautiful weather that exists for six months of the year in Bangor. Unfortunately, the other six months are below freezing cold with an average of 6 feet of snow per year. Con#1: Its Cold Six Months of the Year

If you want to live in Maine, you have to love the freeing cold and snow, or snowbird down south for half of the year.

Con#2: High Levels of Poverty

The poor of Maine are not just living in cabins in the woods, but they are also found in urban areas such as Bangor. Despite a low unemployment rate of 5% and a $12 minimum wage, Bangor still has a concerning poverty rate, with 18% of its residents making less than $15K per year. Half of its population makes less than $40K per year and only 24% brings in over $75K annually.

The poverty levels are also reflected in the below-average homeownership rates, with 47% of Bangor residents renting their homes versus the national average of 32%.

An analysis of salaries shows nearly every major occupation in Bangor pays less than the national average; overall, Bangor jobs pay 20% less than the US average.

Per Pro #2, housing costs are indeed significantly less than the US average, and the total cost of living is 17% less than the national average. However, if your Bangor job is paying a salary 20% less, then you are unable to take advantage of the 17% lower cost of living. For this reason, a study found that Maine is the 6th least affordable state in the country, with 91% of a person’s salary going towards expenses.

Bangor is a great candidate for folks that can telecommute; earn a nice salary from a big city company while living in the inexpensive Bangor area.

Con#3: High Levels of Drug Use

“The opioid epidemic has a death grip on Maine” is the headline of a recent newspaper article from Maine. In 2020, 504 people died of drug overdoses, the worst in Maine’s history, and 2021 is on pace to beat that record with 600+ deaths. Nearly all of these deaths are caused by synthetic opioid fentanyl.

A map of where these overdoses are occurring in Bangor shows a high concentration of overdoses in the downtown area; the area where a city wants to see its most valuable real estate and homes.

Con#4: High Levels of Property Crime

An open prescription bottle, 3 white pills on the table, and a pair of handcuffs

It should surprise no one that there is a link between drug use and crime. This holds true in Bangor where an estimated 79% of criminals are also drug users. The rate of property crime in Bangor is a shocking 63, nearly double the national average of 35. Residents of Bangor have a 1 in 28 chance of being a victim of a property crime. To put it simply: Lots of folks are stealing lots of things in order to sell them for lots of drugs.

In Bangor’s defense, the level of violent crime is only 16 versus a national average of 22. The chance of a resident being a victim of a violent crime is 1 in 922. Maine has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the nation.

Just remember, when you hear “Maine has such low crime rates”, they are referring to violent crime rates; because that statement is not accurate for property crimes.

Con#5: Lower Education Levels

The University of Maine, the state’s largest university, is located just a few miles northeast of Bangor. Despite, this proximity to a major university, only 36% of Bangor residents have a college degree. The youth of Bangor may attend the local university, but it doesn’t appear they are sticking around the area after graduation.

Con#6: Taxes are High

Maine is ranked 4th in the country for having the highest taxes. The average resident of Maine will contribute 10% of their income to state and local taxes. The income tax rate of 7% is nearly double the national average of 4%.

Maine is considered not tax-friendly to retirees, with non-Social Security income being taxed at 7% and property taxes that are above national averages.

Con#7: Lack of Diversity

Maine is ranked the 2nd worst state in terms of diversity, with only West Virginia being worse. The demographic of Bangor is 90% white versus a national average of 61%.

Con#8: Lack of Population Growth

In general, an increasing population is considered good for a city as it increases personal, business, and property tax revenue. A well-functioning city can then re-invest that tax revenue back into the city infrastructure, hopefully attracting even more development. In addition, increasing population implies that people want to live in a city, thus serving as a yardstick for the city’s popularity and attractiveness.

The population of Bangor has been stuck at around 30K people since the 1940s; that’s over 80 years of stagnant growth.

The last major attempt at urban renewal in Bangor was in the 1960s; locals have largely declared this project a failure as it moved successful businesses away from Downtown and failed to replace them with anything better.

The last successful urban renewal in Bangor was after the Great Fire of 1911 which destroyed much of the downtown area taking out 285 residences, 100 businesses, and 6 churches. The area was quickly re-developed between 1911 and 1915, using building designs from several of the leading architects of the time. Today 48 of these rebuilt buildings still stand in what is called the Great Fire of 1911 Historic District. 

Con#9: The Ocean Water is Cold

Pro #1 brags about Maine’s 3,478 miles of tidal shoreline. It is truly a beautiful coastline to look at, but a summer-time water temperature average of 55 degrees makes for a tough swim. 

Before donning that black swimsuit, please be aware that the shark population off Maine’s coast has been increasing nicely over the last few decades thanks to regulatory protection of sharks and the seals they prey on. 

Con#10: Insect Pests

So you’ve decided to avoid the cold ocean waters and head inland to enjoy the vast lands of pine tree nothingness. You had better wear long sleeves and bathe yourself in DEET because the summertime bugs in Maine are the stuff of legend:

  • Clouds of biting black flies during the day, jokingly called the Maine state bird
  • Swarms of mosquitos at night
  • Painful deer fly bites
  • Dog and deer ticks
  • And even a little brown moth caterpillar whose hairs can cause itchy rashes