Editorial: The good news about the Vt. economy is in all income sectors

Here’s the good news from the U.S. Census in data released last week: The media household income in Vermont rose 5.1 percent last year. Low-income households — those making up the bottom 20 percent — rose even higher, gaining 8.5 percent, while the top 20 percent rose 7.6 percent and top 5 percent rose 10.5 percent.
Vermont’s poverty rate in 2015 also saw the biggest single-year decline in New England, according to the Public Assets Institute in Vermont, dropping two percentage points lower than in 2014. In numbers, that translates to 12,000 fewer Vermonters were living in poverty in 2015 compared to 2014, including 3,300 fewer children. Vermont’s poverty rate is about 10 percent, compared to New Hampshire’s at 8 percent, which is the lowest in New England, with Vermont second lowest. The nation averages about 15 percent, with New England in the lower tier of the states.
That’s all good news and belies comments from critics who maintain that Vermont’s economy is worse than it has been in years. Quite the contrary, Vermont’s economy has seen progress over the past six years, even as essential public services — including a significant expansion of health care insurance for uninsured Vermonters, childcare coverage and early childhood education — have grown.
The caveat is that in 2015 the median household income is still slightly below what it was in 2007, before the Great Recession hit in 2008. That speaks to two realities: 1) the depth of the Great Recession, and just how significant a blow that was to the nation’s and Vermont’s economy; and 2) the ongoing economic disruption that is changing the rules of the state’s and nation’s economic scorecard. In today’s economy, what was is almost certainly not what will be tomorrow.
Therefore, how fast the state or nation might recover from an economic event has little to do with comparisons to previous decades. We are in a global economy with rapid changes in technology (think robotics) that dramatically impacts the workplace. What’s needed in the future is increased education — from early education through adulthood — and a community foundation and environment that accepts and promotes change, flexibility and innovation.
Those politicians who continue to deride the pace of progress over these past six years, and harken back to past comparisons, are either purposely misleading the public or don’t appreciate the changes that have been happening over the past decade. For the moment, however, Vermonters should take heart that last year’s economy shows dramatic improvement for all sectors of the workforce and a hopeful outlook in the years ahead if we continue to invest in the future.
Angelo S. Lynn

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