Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Vermont Population Bomb

The Vermont Population Bomb

Those concerned with ongoing world population growth always describe it as a “bomb” assuredly exhausting global natural resources, making average individual economic betterment impossible, and defeating global sustainability.

Meanwhile Vermont not unlike other northeastern states and aging nations suddenly finds itself sitting in a long period of demographic stagnation as the young and working age population declines and senior numbers climb through the roof. Conservatively, using the average of the two State population projections, the 2010-2030 period features a yearly decline of working age population of 2,100 and the young 0-20 1,400 while seniors soar 4,400 or a town the size of Stowe added each year!

The senior population bomb got plenty of attention of Governor Jim Douglas early in the century, the decline in the young those concerned with why school costs rise with declining student numbers, and finally in the recent election campaign the disappearing and aging workforce segment came into regular discussion. In his budget message Governor Scott called the growth of the workforce necessary for stabilizing the support for tax revenues but did not bother to note the trend of workforce decline of 2,100 a year or specific steps to slow the leakage much less how to reverse the long term trend.
Demographic trends are not a mystery and Vermont like all states and do periodic releases of official projections of populations by age which agencies must use in preparation of policies, plans and programs. The two current projections provide no comfort to the State leadership or those in our cities and towns. Vermont's two official 2010-2030 populations start from the same 2010 Census population of 625,700 (numbers here are rounded to the nearest 100) with projections showing: Scenario A a growth to 670,100 or 44,400 more residents and, Scenario B decline of 5,300 to 620,500.

As a practical matter these 20 year projections developed every so often have tended toward paralleling U.S.Census which has a large staff dealing with all aspects of current and future demographic estimates for the nation as a whole, the states and right down to each of our Vermont counties, towns and even state representative districts.

So Vermont and its political leaders face a different kind of population bomb, one of declining children each year or 17% for the 2010-2030 period; a double digit decline, 11%, of working age population 20-65; and an almost doubling of the senior population, 97% or an 88,900 increase.

So what is the Vermont change in population in 2016 and how does it compare with the two projection from the 2010 Census scenarios, one predicting an increase of 44,400 and the second a 5,300 decline? Census for 2016: Vermont population down 1,100! The decline suggests Scenario B is more likely than Scenario A. While the analysis here averages the two scenarios, Scenario B would mean an even greater loss of under 20 population as well as the 20-65 workforce population while still reaching an 82% increase in seniors.

The numbers for Vermont counties and towns can reach even starker levels, again using just the two scenario average. Nine of fourteen counties have lost population since 2010, Census estimates. Projections show practically all counties lose both young and working age population while senior aged numbers soars—even Chittenden County with a 11% decline in the young 0-19, a drop 5% working age, and 111% increase in seniors. Still overall population of Chittenden County 2010-2030 us projected to grow, thanks to the seniors numbers, 7% for the 20 year period.

For a typical county other than Chittenden there is a population decline and the projections are far starker. Addison County numbers are: 3.9% drop in population overall, 0-20 age down 36% and working age 20-65 down 21% while senior numbers jump 112%. Again, if 2010-2016 Census estimates are in indicator, these numbers could show even greater differentials.

Again it is so important to emphasize these Vermont numbers are not that much different than those of other northeastern states or slow growth ones in the midwest. All Vermont's neighbors will be pushing in the same direction in all likelihood to staunch the flow of declining workforce and the young while dealing with a massive increase in their senior populations.   

The two key reports on projecting Vermont populations are:
1. “Vermont Population Projections 2010-2030” K Jones and L Schwarz, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (2013). This report contains population projections for 2020 and 2030 for the State and counties by age for two secenarios (A and B); and in addition total town population projections for both scenarios for 2020 and 2030.

2. “The Challenges of Projecting Vermont's Population” by the Vermont Joint Fiscal Office (2015).