Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > Census: Still down, but maybe looking up

Census: Still down, but maybe looking up

The Vermont Census data released yesterday bring to mind a book title from the 1960s: “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.” According to the Census, Vermont saw improvement in 2011 in a couple of key indicators, including median household income and poverty. In fact, Vermont had the biggest growth in median household income among the 50 states last year. After adjusting for inflation, it rose 4 percent—from $50,707 in 2010 to $52,776 last year. The median is the midpoint: Half of Vermont households had income above $52,776 last year and half had incomes below it.

A rise in household income is clearly good news, especially after two years of decline. And perhaps this means that Vermont is starting to recover from the recession. But this has been a lost decade for many Vermonters. Again after adjusting for inflation, Vermont median household income in 2011 was slightly lower than it was in 2001.

The picture was similar for Vermont’s poverty rate. The overall poverty rate was down in 2011, to 11.5 percent. But it had risen in 2008, 2009, and 2010 as the Great Recession took its toll. Despite the drop last year, Vermont’s poverty rate in 2011 was still higher than the 10.1 percent rate we had in 2007.

Poverty for families with young children is much worse than it was before the recession. For families with children under 5, the rate rose in 2011 to 20.4 percent—more than one in five families. In 2007, before the start of the recession, the poverty rate for these families was 12.8 percent.

Another indication of continuing hard times is the food stamps statistic. In 2007, just over 8 percent of households received food stamps through the program Vermont calls 3SquaresVT. The number of households needing help to buy food rose in each in the last four years. In 2011, 13.7 percent of Vermont households received foods stamps at some point during the year. The problem is not that so many Vermonters are getting foods stamps; it’s that so many need them.

One bright spot in the new Census data was the decline in the percentage of Vermonters without health insurance. Even through the recession, the number dropped steadily and was down to 6.6 percent in 2011. The Census figures show, furthermore, that while the percentage of Vermonters with health insurance rose between 2008 and 2011, the share with private insurance plans dropped from 71.2 percent in 2008 to 68.7 percent last year. Meanwhile, those with public health insurance coverage rose from 33.9 percent to 38.4 percent. (The percentages of people with private insurance and public health plans totals more than 100 percent because some Vermonters—for example, many on Medicare—have both public and private coverage.) The recent increase in public coverage might mean that need has increased—that people have gotten poorer and thus became eligible for government help. The numbers also might indicate a change in policy expanding the group that is eligible for publicly funded insurance—or a bit of both. We’ll look into it in a subsequent blog.

In any case, optimists are seeing in these new data signs that things are looking up. But as many struggling Vermonters know, there’s still a long way to go.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on September 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Comments are closed.