LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A task force set up by the Maine Legislature to examine the state of Maine's Franco-American population is nearing the end of its study, and even experts on the panel are surprised by the findings.
Set up in 2011, Rep. Ken Fredette (R) Newport co-sponsored the bill to establsh the bipartisan task force, made up of legistlators, cultural experts, and Franco-Americans.
"As being a Franco-American, I recognize that in some times in our past, Franco-Americans have been a very quiet presence in Maine," said Rep. Fredette.
He said the goal is to break that silence, and survey Maine's Franco-Americans to find out about their employment, education, economic standing, and cultural awareness.
The task force has surveyed 600 Franco-American Mainers, and found half of those between 18-25 self-reported that they were unemployed -- a rate that sits well above the state's average.
"I don't know enough to understand that number. We were very surprsied," said Tony Brinkley, a faculty member from the University of Maine's Franco-American Centre.
Brinkley is still analyzing the numbers, but says there is evidence that younger Franco-Americans aren't going to college at the same rates as other ethnic groups.
He is studying the survey results with the Centre's Director, Yvon Labbe, who said he is noticing a correlation between cultural awareness and economic and educational acheivement.
"The survey already shows that older Franco-Americans who have gone to college and who have maintained a sense of who they are culturally, and know their history to some degree, tend to be more successful," said Labbe.
This apparent link has led those sitting on the task force to make several recommendations to the Legislature, including:
- Requiring Maine schools to include Franco-American history
- Requiring schools to report ethnicity data so the state can track results
- Establishing a Franco-American Leadership Council to continue to the work of the task force once the final report has been submitted
- Working with the University of Maine system and other institutions of higher learning to attract more first-generation applicants
The task force will submit its final report findings and recommendations to the Legislature by December 15.