Montpelier Yogi Berra once said of a favorite restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Today, something like the opposite might be said of Vermont. If our state is really the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family, how come fewer people are choosing to live here, work here and raise families here? And, why is this particularly true of our best and brightest young people?
According to the U.S. Census, in 2011-2012, while the rest of the country was growing, Vermont suffered a net loss of 581 citizens, or a 0.09% decline in our overall population. The only other state to lose population was Rhode Island, which shrank by 0.03%. Over the past dozen years (since the passage of Act 60) our K-12 population has plummeted from 106,000 to roughly 85,000, which reflects the fact that it’s really the young parents of these kids who are bugging out for a better future somewhere else, and taking their offspring with them.
So, what it is that’s driving young, well-educated people away? The best skiing and boarding in the East? The great mountain biking? The vibrant local food scene? The finest micro-breweries in the country? The low crime rate? Probably not. Granted, there are some folks who grew up down on the farm and are anxious to see Paris and nothing in the world could keep them here through another Vermont winter. But, you have to think that for every one of these, there is at least another who’s spent her whole life breathing that stuff that spews out of New York City grates and is eager to experience a lung-full of clean, mountain air. We’re losing the former, but we’re not gaining the latter. There has to be a reason.
Is it the job market? Not really. Though it could be better, the biggest complaint we hear from the Vermont business community is that there are not enough highly skilled workers willing to fill the jobs they’re offering. Is it our students? No. Our schools continually rank in the top five nationally. Even the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) placed Vermont’s education performance at #2 in the nation. Our students are not the dummies….