In a recent article in Economist Magazine, the question was asked, “What’s wrong with Vermont?” Why is it that Vermont has not seen the growth during the current economic boom that other states have seen? Vermont’s wage and GDP growth lags behind all the other states, and it continues to lose population as its young move to states where there is opportunity for upward mobility. It’s estimated that by the year 2030, Vermont’s residents 65 and over will comprise more than 50% of the state’s population. That is a demographic time bomb.
Now, we have Sen. Dick McCormack asking why Vermont needs population growth? Why can’t we just let the population continue to gradually decline? Why not let our young continue to move to states like Texas and Arizona, where there is opportunity, while the remaining population continues to age and rely more heavily on the state’s crumbling infrastructure? It will be quieter with less people. No lines at the grocery store, Post Office, or gas station, if they can even continue to operate with a reduced population. So what if businesses continue to close and jobs are lost? With fewer people, we’ll need to provide fewer jobs. Well, rest assured; it will be really quiet once everyone is gone!
I would have thought the answer was obvious, but apparently not. The strain on the state’s fixed costs: schools, health care, roads, etc., doesn’t decrease proportionately with the population. There is a point of diminished returns, which Vermont seems to have already passed. As any business owner will tell you, the cost per citizen, that is required tax revenue, to maintain these basic necessities, will sky rocket. And, since the demographic Vermont continues to lose is the most important for fiscal health – its young and ambitious – it will be devastating to the state.
The residents of any state are like customers, and they have options. Every state is selling a product: job opportunity, quality of life, safe neighborhoods, good schools, etc., at a cost to its taxpayers. When young people leave a state, they are going elsewhere for the things they need to have a meaningful life and telling you they can’t find them in your state. In a recent conversation with a friend, while discussing personal matters, she told me with great pride that her oldest was off to college with a substantial scholarship to study engineering at an out-of-state school. She told her daughter, when she dropped her off at college, to study hard and make her mother one promise: “Don’t come home to Vermont, there’s nothing for you here.”
That is a sad commentary on the lack of opportunity the state offers its gifted and talented youth. Get a good education, then go elsewhere to make a good life for yourself because you won’t be able to here. Isn’t that the basic responsibility of any good government? To provide a way for its young to thrive and make a good life for themselves and also to be a magnet for other ambitious people who can help provide the tax revenue necessary to provide a good quality of life for all its citizens?
If you agree that it is, then Vermont has failed its young and will continue to do so if it resists the obvious: providing more opportunity. And, unfortunately, for those resistant, that will require more people.