As rural economies go in the nation, so goes Vermont

By David Moats

Economic stagnation in Vermont is not new. For decades, it has defied the efforts of political leaders, Republican and Democrat, to solve it.

What’s new is a growing awareness that the problem is a widespread condition, animating protests from Paris to London, from Oklahoma to Arizona, West Virginia to Vermont.

A new report from the Public Assets Institute of Montpelier has shone new light on how Vermont workers continue to struggle. It is called “The State of Working Vermont 2018,” and it’s the latest installment in a series of reports charting the economic conditions affecting Vermonters at all income levels. It’s likely that a report on workers in rural France would yield similar findings. In France conditions of stagnation have produced weeks of unrest by protesters wearing yellow vests. The Yellow Vest movement is just the latest instance of rebellion by people who see that capitalism in its present form has a put a stranglehold on their economic prospects.

The Public Assets report finds Vermont was one of only 10 states where median income fell in 2017, and it remains below where it was in 2007 — before the Great Recession. The report finds that if median income in Vermont had kept pace with growth in the rest of the nation it would be $6,500 higher.

In many ways the report details trends that are commonly understood by Vermonters. Most of the income and employment growth in the state has occurred in Chittenden County. Meanwhile, the total workforce in Vermont remains below its level of 2006, the lingering effect of the Great Recession, and also of the accelerating pace of baby boomer retirements.

Public Assets also points to many oft-mentioned problems that continue to block economic progress: the lack of affordable child care; the high cost of housing; and the

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