Economic gains in Vermont are not improving the lives of most residents, according to a new report from the Public Assets Institute, a left-leaning Montpelier think tank.
The group’s annual analysis of economic and quality-of-life indicators says that benefits from the state’s economic growth mainly go to those who are already doing well.
From 2006 to 2016, average nominal income for the top 5 percent of Vermont earners rose 42 percent. Over the same period, the bottom fifth of earners saw an average increase of 6 percent.
The report also emphasizes that high numbers of Vermonters still struggle to pay their expenses, with more of a burden falling on specific groups. Single parents have the most difficulty, with only 32 percent of single-parent families with one child meeting the Joint Fiscal Office’s basic-needs budget amounts.
Other economic security indicators are mixed. More than 96 percent of Vermonters had health insurance in 2016, one of the highest rates in the country. But access to affordable child care is decreasing, according to Department for Children and Families data, and the number of Vermonters receiving food stamps remains above pre-recession levels.
Vermont was one of only four states where poverty rose in 2016. Vermonters of color are disproportionately poorer than white residents, the report notes: According to census data collected over a five-year period, black Vermonters were more than twice as likely to live below the poverty line.
The state’s workforce continues to shrink, as it has since the 2008 recession. From 2006 to 2016, the labor force has declined in all age groups except those age 65 and older. Continuing a trend started in 2005, more people leave the state than move into it.
Unemployment declined and remained below the national average in 2016, but the report notes that U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers still put the overall rate of unemployed and underemployed Vermonters at above pre-recession levels.
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The report also reveals disparities in employment growth among the state’s more populous regions. Vermont Department of Labor statistics show that over a 10-year period, the number of employed Vermonters increased only in Chittenden and Franklin counties. In counties outside the state’s northwest corner, 18,000 fewer residents were employed.
The authors recommend state-level policies to counteract these negative trends. Increasing the minimum wage and assistance to low-income families would boost incomes, they say, while improving transportation and child care infrastructure would allow more low-income residents to work.
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