Editorial: Troubling demographics

In Gov. Phil Scott’s Inaugural Address this past Thursday he again emphasized the troubling demographic trend facing the state: a decline of youth and in our workforce.
Since 2009, he noted, the state’s workforce declined by 15,000, which is 15,000 fewer Vermont potential taxpayers contributing to the state’s coffers. Since peak employment, Washington and Franklin Counties have seen a labor force decline of 2 percent; Addison and Orange Counties saw a 5 percent drop; Grand Isle and Orleans lost 6 percent, while Bennington, Lamoille and Windham counties witnessed a 10 percent reduction; Windsor 12 percent; Caledonia, 13 percent; Rutland, 14 percent and Essex County almost 20 percent.
That’s troubling enough, but the decline in school populations — particularly for Addison County — is even more worrisome. Statewide, we are educating about 30,000 fewer K-12 students than we were in 1997. Every county in the state has seen a decline. In the past 15 years, since 2004, Franklin County’s enrollment has shrunk the least at 3.5 percent, while Chittenden, Lamoille and Orange counties have seen declines of 12 percent. Enrollment declined 16 percent in Caledonia County, 17 percent in Orleans, 19 percent in Washington, 21 percent in Bennington and Grand Isle, and 23 percent in Windham. Three counties — Addison, Rutland and Windsor — have seen a drop of 25 percent of student enrollment since 2004.
The consolidation of dairy farming is no doubt one of the reasons affecting the decline in Addison County (as the number of farm families tumble), but we’ve also seen some manufacturing jobs leave without being replaced, as well as lost jobs in retail. Regardless of the reason, one of the goals of this upcoming biennium for Addison County legislators is to understand these demographic trends, hold communities forums, and to offer solutions that stem the tide and make our communities stronger.

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