Hold Your Horses

Dustin Degree, former member of the Vermont Senate, and now member of the Scott administration as executive director of workforce expansion, recently posted on Facebook some encouraging employment and workforce data.  What he’s posted is good news, but much like Peter Shumlin, former governor of Vermont’s routinely rosy employment proclamations, what lies underneath the data is what’s relevant, and needs a closer look.

  1. 4,500 new workers since January.

This type of information always needs to be viewed in context, and the timing of the start and end dates of the comparison is interesting.  Rarely are the types of jobs gained mentioned in these numbers, too, as it could be 4,500 new workers flipping burgers.  While burgers need flipping, 4,500 new burger-flipping jobs won’t raise median incomes in Vermont, nor provide someone the ability to buy a home in a state where the home prices are catastrophically high.

In looking at the Vermont Department of Labor data (seasonally adjusted), the difference between January and June 2018 is 1,600 employees.  Dustin might have access to updated data, but this is what the state officially publishes.

Secondly, of the total private sector gains in that period, 1,800, almost half of those gains were in the Leisure and Hospitality industry – 800 of of the 1,800 fell into this category.  So close to 50% of the job gains were in an industry where the incomes are at the lower end of the spectrum.

To be fair, there were gains in Financial Activities (400), Professional and Business Services (900), but many of those positive gains were offset by losses in Manufacturing, Trade Transportation and Utilities, and other categories.  In fact, the total losses in Manufacturing and Trade Transportation and Utilities was 800 – which completely negates the gains in the Leisure and Hospitality sector.



  1. More people working at any time since 2011.

More people working is always good news, but why pick 2011 as a start date?  The state’s employment data goes back to 1976.  2011 isn’t in the top 10 of overall employment years.  2011’s average employment number was 338,443.  The 2006 average is 343,830.  Which means, 10-plus years ago, we had 5,000 more people employed in Vermont than we do right now.  In fact, the average employment number from 2011 to 2017 is 334,891 – which is pretty close to January 2018’s employment number of 335,233.

Which looks to me like there hasn’t been much improvement in overall employment in the last decade.  If we have to go back to the salad days of 2006 for higher employment numbers, which Degree ignores to make comparisons more favorable, then he’s missing the point.  Vermont is still regressing, from an employment point of view.

Oh, and if you need more data on this, Vermont’s incomes are only at 80% of the regional income level (New England).  Meaning Vermont’s still behind everyone else in New England, in terms of incomes, and has been that way for the past 3 decades, as Art Woolf details below:

Vermont lost ground against our neighbors during the late 1970s but for the last three decades it’s been stable at about 80 percent of the New England average. We are an above-income state compared to the nation, but we are (sic) still the poor cousins in a rich region.  Connecticut and Massachusetts have the highest per capita incomes in the nation and New Hampshire ranks seventh. At nineteenth highest, Vermont has a long way to go to catch up, and we’re unlikely to see that happen. Ever.

  1. Two general fund budgets with no new taxes or fees.

Lastly, although this has little to do with employment specifically, the elephant in the room that always goes purposefully unnoticed is the state’s unfunded liabilities exposure, which is now in the billions:

Unfunded obligations in the teachers’ pension program, which was less than $400 million in 2008, had grown to $1.5 billion by 2017. For state employees, the unfunded portion of the pension program increased from $87 million in 2008 to $717 million in 2017.

Who’s going to pay for this? Hospitality workers?

So, while no new taxes or fees is a good thing in the short run, in the long run the state is ignoring its responsibility to fund the pensions it owes, largely to the state’s teachers.

But Scott isn’t alone in addressing the this last looming issue, as prior governors have been kicking this pension bomb down the road, and there will likely have to be some kind of national reckoning on it.  Which means more taxes and more debt to pay off promises made but never kept by politicians at the state and local level, because it never hurts to promise something to someone when someone else has to pick up the tab.

Maybe this means Scott, and Dustin Degree, can celebrate the above gains a little less loudly.  Decades of negative economic policies will take years to unwind, and a lot of work to undo what’s been done to Vermont.

It’s a start.  But it’s only the beginning, and the bulk of the work lies in front of Gov. Scott and Dustin Degree.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Peg Coutermarsh August 17, 2018 at 2:00 pm

In figuring the 5,000 less people working/employed of that #, how many of those are still VT residents? How many VT residents have said, “Enough already with the taxes and liberal B.S.?


Mark Shepard August 18, 2018 at 12:37 am


We are one family, and with deep VT roots, that made the move … after all my customers moved all or a good part of their VT operations to other states and after we sacrifices several years wages to try to help wake up Vermonters via elected politics. Perhaps the biggest problem, which I learned from running and serving in the Senate as a Republican, is Vermont lacks any real opposition party to the socialist/democrat party. And that makes it really hard to make the case that somehow things will get better, at least in the near term.


Peg August 20, 2018 at 5:27 pm

I can truly relate to family and history in VT. I was born in VT and all primary and post education was in Vermont, and there are many gravesites there of family and dear friends. However, there comes a time when it is time to cut your losses and move on. As with an old car you love; You love it and afterall you’ve put on many miles making memories fishing, hunting, dating, family reunions and visiting friends. The old car is no longer giving you a trustworthy ride and costs more hard earned money than it is worth or can afford, so it time to move on, and we did.

We were fortunate because we were not to old and not yet financially tapped out to be unable to leave.
Regrets? Yes, leaving family and friends behind that we couldn’t take with us. We came back a couple years back for a visit and it hurt our hearts to see what VT has become. VT had lost the magic of community and the personal freedoms we grew up
with. Vermont ceased to be good for our spirits and financial health. Sadly, VT is only now memories, as we will never come back. There is life outside and it is good.

feel like home years before we left.

money goes


Deanne August 18, 2018 at 2:32 pm

From what I’ve been reading, there are people running this time who think they can raise incomes in Vermont by increasing the minimum wage. I hope there are people keeping close track so if that happens, the effects can be clearly documented without the data manipulation that is so common.

When moving back to the area, our family (also with a long Vermont history) chose New Hampshire over Vermont, partly influenced by Act 60 which had recently been enacted. It is sad to me to see the Vermont I grew up knowing mutate into something completely different. I still have the same nostalgia for Vermont, but the reality is, it’s not the same place. (I might add that New Hampshire has its own issues.)

Another aspect of the employment situation in Vermont has to do with laws that punish employers for firing lazy or incompetent workers by making the employer pay a huge chunk of the unemployment for those who need to be fired. I am certain there are people milking this system.

Then there are people who can work, but figure out a way to get on disability. Why work if you can get money for free? There is no end of options for people who want something for nothing.

I have thought that it might be useful to refer to Old Vermont and New Vermont to distinguish the two very different mentalities. Old Vermonters lived by the adage “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” New Vermonters believe in trying to get as much as possible with as little effort as possible.

To be fair, this whole country has changed, not just Vermont – the culture, the people, the ethics and morality. In my opinion, the changes are not for the better.


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