Saturday, December 26, 2015

Vermont No Longer the "Beckoning Country"

The Associated Press Christmas day news article appeared in an inconspicuous place about half way into the Burlington Free Press with a headline about Maine losing population in the latest 2015 U.S. Census state estimates as we enter the second half of the decade in a few days. Well, Vermont lost population too, 725 residents, the second straight year of decline and putting Vermont's “growth” since the 2010 Census at an anemic 301 equal to about 120 additional households.

The net 301 resident growth 2010-2015 compares to the average of two Vermont official projections of over 14,000 for this decade. Certainly the 2008 Great Recession depressed the economy nationally but not so much so in Vermont. And while total Vermont population barely changes, the explosive growth in senior population in Vermont continues its relentless pace of over 4,000 a year—equivalent to a Town of Stowe population age 65 and over additionally yearly. Obviously the Vermont workforce, school age, and the total non-senior population of the State remains on track for a significant decline—a projection State experts definitely got right.

It is long past the time for changing overall state policies and budgeting to reflect the new demographic reality. Talking about increasing population of any age—your or old—to our state faces a grim hurdle—all other New England States and New York face the same bleak population trends—more seniors and less non-senior population. Some nations—Japan and some Western European nations moved into the “young-decline” decades ago and have adjusted public policies and budgets like an explorers in a new world. Politicians who run on the claim they will increase Vermont's population by 70,000 or so appear like a Kings convinced they can hold back the daily rise of the ocean tides.

The 1960s and 1970s in Vermont brought an economic boom spurred by the combination of the new interstate highways, the baby boomers coming of age, and a new recreation industry centered on skiing. There is nothing on the horizon which which change the economic and demographic tides. One obvious possibility—and it was studied by a New York/Quebec/Vermont international study—would be a high speed passenger service averaging 175 mph (fastest European train schedule average speed 179 mph) between Boston and Montreal via Vermont. Such a service would make commuting from Burlington to Montreal about 30 minutes, from Montpelier 45 minutes. For White River Junction area to Boston commuting time would be about 50 minutes. Still the speeds contemplated for the Boston-Vermont-Montreal “high speed” plan right now are only 110 mph.

In the early 1960s a Vermont promotion with the theme of come to the “beckoning country” was dropped because the growth of the State had become so rapid. Right now without any change Vermont appears to be the “non-beckoning country.”

1 comment:

  1. Do you think the 2015 Census data estimates suggest that VT should be planning based on Scenario B from the report you cite? (Which projected a slight decline of 0.8% or about 5,000.) What does 'changing state policy and budgeting' accordingly mean in practical terms? For example, does it mean greater emphasis on policies to attract more families with young children or on policies that assume an aging population?