The NYT reported yesterday on Vermont population trends:
This state of beautiful mountains and popular ski resorts, once a magnet for back-to-the-landers, is losing young people at a precipitous clip.
John J. Miller spins this politically at the NRO Corner:
From the land of Howard Dean, Jim Jeffords, and Bernie Sanders: Young people can't get out of Vermont fast enough, according to this report.
Fair enough, but is it true? I'm not shy about making invidious comparisons between my own beloved New Hampshire and Vermont. For example, the difference in Business Tax Climate (NH is sixth-best, Vermont is #46) might have something to do with this, since young folks tend to vacate states without jobs. And surely the overall state tax burden (Vermont is sixth-highest, NH is #49) might also be a part of the explanation for the Vermontian exodus.
The NYT, unfortunately, wastes time on looking at non-economic explanations. They point out, for example, that Vermont has the lowest birth rate of all states. This report from the National Center on Health Statistics confirms that; Vermont is actually tied with Maine with a 10.6 birth rate. Utah has the highest birth rate, 21.2. The US overall birth rate is 14.1
But New Hampshire has a 11.2 birth rate, only 0.6 above Vermont, and 2.9 below the US rate. So why isn't the NYT writing about New Hampshire?
We might as well also look at fertility rate, since I took the time to look it up: The NCHS deems the fertility rate to "provide a more refined picture of geographic variation in childbearing." And (indeed) Vermont has the lowest state fertility rate: 51.1, compared to the US rate of 66.1. (Maine's fertility rate is 52.1, Utah is highest with 92.2.)
New Hampshire, however, is right down there with Vermont and Maine, with a fertility rate of 52.7. (1.6 above Vermont, 13.4 below the US rate.) So, again, why isn't the NYT reporting this about New Hampshire?
Another statistic reported by the NYT is the Census Bureau's projection of state population trends until 2030. Which, as near as I can tell, they managed to get wrong. They claim 30.4% of Vermont's population will be 65 or older in 2030; in contrast (they claim) 25.7% of the US's population will be 65 or older then.
But the Census Bureau's spreadsheet (Excel, sorry) puts these values at 24.4% for Vermont, and 19.7% for the US. Vermont's projected to be the eighth "oldest" state in 2030. Maine, in contrast, is projected to be second only to Florida in geezer population (26.5%) in 2030. New Hampshire's projection is 21.4, which puts it in a more comfortable 17th place. (Update: I misread this, and the NYT is actually correct. Please see here.)
The NYT also gets this wrong:
While Vermont's population of young people shrinks, the number of older residents is multiplying because Vermont increasingly attracts retirees from other states. It is now the second-oldest state, behind Maine.
According to the Census Bureau, the "oldest" state in the 2000 Census was (of course) Florida, with 17.6% of its population over 65. Maine was 12th (14.4%) and Vermont was in 31st place (12.7%). I doubt things changed that much in 6 years.
What about total population? This is where you really see a difference. The Census Bureau expects Vermont's population to grow by 16.9 percent between 2000 and 2030. In comparison, the the US projected population growth is 29.2%; NH's is 33.2%, Maine's is (only) 10.7%. (North Dakota trails the pack with a projected 5.5% drop in population, a neat trick considering nobody lives there in the first place.)
How you feel about this mainly reflects how you feel about population growth in the first place. But the easiest point of comparison is that NH's population is projected to grow significantly above the national average, while Vermont's and Maine's growth rates will be below-average.
So the NYT is mistaken to point to birth rate data to explain Vermont's woes, since New Hampshire is able to maintain (relatively) high population growth with (similarly) low birth rates.
Speculation: what Vermont is seeing (and Maine, too) is the inevitable result of anti-growth policies pursued for years. They thought (with all "good intentions") that they could limit "growth" while somehow keeping other things, like a healthy population of young folks, the same.
The NYT, to its credit, at least gingerly touches on such issues. Young people can't afford housing, which is purchased by retirees instead. Vermont voters are terrified of "overdevelopment", so place onerous restrictions on new housing. And, finally, there's the overriding issue:
Vermont has also lost many good-paying jobs, driving away many well-educated young people and further discouraging businesses.Of course, it is the New York Times, so no mention is made of parasitic levels of taxation as a possible cause of "lost" jobs. The only mention of taxes is the current governor bewailing that that there won't be enough tax revenue in the future due to people leaving.
The governor has also proposed "giving college scholarships requiring students to stay in Vermont for three years after graduating". I can imagine your average Vermont wigh school senior weighing (a) a college tuition break versus (b) a real good chance at being unemployed for three years afterward. Hm. Tough choice!
With any luck, New Hampshire will be able to continue to look at Vermont as a shining example of what not to do to maintain economic health.