Public Assets Institute > Blog > Attracting new Vermonters

Attracting new Vermonters

Vermont is # 1 in people moving here! But wait, aren’t we losing people at an alarming rate?

Those were the dueling narratives just in the past week or so in the governor’s inaugural address and in the news from the 2018 National Mover’s Study by United Van Lines.

If you listened to the governor yesterday, you’d think busloads of Vermonters were heading out of state every day. This administration has been suggesting that Vermont’s biggest problem is demographics: not enough workers, jobs, taxpayers, or children in schools.

Meanwhile, the United Van Lines study looked at their moves in and out of each state in 2018 and reported that Vermont had the largest share in the country of moves into the state as compared with moves out.  While that made for a good headline, the study looked only at United Van Lines’ customers, which added up to 234 moves in 2018. It’s not a representative sample of the more than 15,000 people who come and go each year.

The truth is somewhere in between.

First of all, Vermont does not have a demographic crisis. There’s no big exodus of rich people or young people. While those under 35 are more likely to move than other age groups, roughly the same numbers move in as move out.  And the same holds true across income levels: As many high-income people move in as move out. Ditto middle-income people and low-income people.

Public Assets examines this indicator in our annual State of Working Vermont report.  The Internal Revenue Service tracks tax filers coming and going state by state and provides a breakdown by age and income—a much more comprehensive and reliable picture of what’s happening with Vermont migration.

The news is not bad. In any given year, the vast majority of Vermonters—over 96 percent on average— stay put. In the most recent data from tax year 2016, about 16,000 moved out of Vermont and roughly 15,000 moved in. Since 2005 Vermont has seen a small net loss of people each year. But going back to 1993, the average numbers of those coming and those going have been almost identical. And according to the Census, Vermont’s population has grown by over 60,000 people, or nearly 11 percent, over the last three decades.

That said, it would be great to attract more people to Vermont, especially to communities outside of Chittenden County, and to keep more people here.

But the solutions the governor has proposed—voluntary family and medical leave, increased pupil-teacher ratios in Vermont schools, and reduced education spending—are not the way to do it. Instead, Vermont needs to make investments in those things that make people want to live here. To attract workers, raise the minimum wage and require every employer to do its part for paid family and medical leave. Yes, expand early care and learning but also invest in communities and schools—pre-K through higher education.  Clean up lakes and rivers without taking the money from affordable housing. Ensure that the environmental protections in Act 250 remain robust.

In Montpelier and in the media, those who come and go get the most attention, especially those who leave Vermont. Vermont offers well-publicized cash incentives to get people to move to the state and designs tax policy to avoid scaring off high-income taxpayers.

But like so many things, the truth is a little more nuanced than what will fit in a headline or a speech. Vermont is not #1 in getting people to move here, but we’re also not losing young people in droves or scaring off the wealthy.  So instead of making policy around splashy headlines, we can work to build the Vermont we want—a Vermont that is welcoming and that works for everyone who lives here.  Then we can enjoy watching the arrival of new Vermonters who want all that this state has to offer.

Posted by Stephanie Yu on January 11, 2019 at 1:50 pm

7 Responses to “Attracting new Vermonters”

  1. Anne Sarcka says:

    Thanks for this, Stephanie.
    But don’t we need more info on who in particular is moving in and who out to design policy?
    Eg if most of the people moving in are retirees wanting to be near their kids, and those moving out are young working people, that would make a big difference in how you look at solutions. Do we have that data?

    Best wishes!

  2. Clive Gray says:

    On a March 30 blog you refer to “the $500 million tax cut mostly for those at the top” resulting from the federal tax reform. I presume that refers to the whole country. Can you estimate the tax cut enjoyed by the top 1% of Vermont income-earners? I told my state Rep. that I hope the Democratic super-majority in the legislature will increase the percentage in the top income bracket to fund some of the vital programs they are proposing. E.g. increase funding for VHCB, whose appropriation has remained level-funded for donkey’s years. Can you help me formulate questions for the upcoming VTDigger sessions with Mitzi Johnson and Tim Ashe?

  3. Paul Cillo says:

    The IRS provides a breakdown by age and income of those leaving and those arriving. On page 24 of our State of Working Vermont 2018 report (link is provided in the blog) you can see that there are similar numbers leaving and arriving in each age range and each income range.


  4. Spoon Agave says:

    It’s not easy to think of reasons that Vermont should want more population. Do we have enough r sources to support more people? If so, how many more? Does this take the long term future into consideration. Would we be glad, a hundred years from now, that we had a million residents?

  5. chris woods says:

    Great work, Paul,

    As you point out, statistics are easy to use in any way possible, even by moving companies (did they do a bed count? ;)

    Trying to get past a news-byte debate is tough. Like the pay-to-move program: it sounds good, get money flowing into the state, but the result is that these people’s productivity – and the growth that creates – is going out of state.

    We at think there is a lot more productivity available in-state that is not being realized, and that some network science can bring it out.


  6. Paul Cillo says:

    Thanks for the questions. That $500 million figure (actually $532 million) was Vermont’s share of the over $1.5 trillion in federal tax cuts in 2018 alone. Of that $532 million, $356 million(2/3) went to the top 20% of Vermonters, and almost $96 million went to the top 1%. This was a mix of the personal income tax changes, the increase to the estate tax threshold, the pass-through businesses tax breaks, and the corporate tax breaks. The average tax cut for the top 1% was $30,000, but that would vary depending on an individual’s circumstances.

  7. Paul Cillo says:

    Hi, Spoon,
    It’s important to think about overall population growth, the level of population we have the resources to support, and the population needed to provide the state’s needed workforce. That said, this is not a Vermont-specific question. Also, there’s a difference between simply growing the overall population and attracting more people to Vermont, and opening our doors to more immigrants and refugees who need a viable place to live. Since the 1990 Census, Vermont’s population has increased by nearly 11% and our population density is still relatively low.