Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > Income disparity was also a Town Meeting topic

Income disparity was also a Town Meeting topic

Town Meeting put Vermont in the national spotlight again after dozens of communities adopted resolutions calling for a constitutional fix to Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that has opened new rivers of money flowing into political campaigns. But there was another resolution that some towns adopted that also deserves attention. This was a resolution that called for new policies to reverse the growing income disparity in Vermont and the U.S.

Income disparity seems to have been pushed off the front page since police and cold weather disbanded the Occupy Movement encampments. And most political leaders in Montpelier have been remarkably silent on the issue since the Legislature returned in January—not that they had much to say on the topic before the session began.

Income disparity isn’t a partisan issue. Research shows strong correlations between various social ills and income inequality, so we all have a stake in narrowing the gap. Interestingly, wealth isn’t the determinant. Some countries with relatively low per capita wealth do well on the social health indicators just as some rich countries do poorly. But where there is a wide gap between rich and poor, indicators like life expectancy, murder rates, incarceration rates, infant mortality, obesity, alcohol and drug addiction, and teen pregnancy move in the wrong direction.

The income gap in Vermont has been widening since the early 1980s, and the pattern has been similar to what we’ve seen at the national level. The share of income going to the top 1 percent of Vermonters was 6 percent in 1981. By 2005, it had risen to 19 percent. Meanwhile, the share of income shrank for the other 99 percent.

As the Town Meeting resolutions explained, the growth in inequality has been largely the result of government tax and spending policies of the last 30 years. It follows, therefore, that with different policies we can reverse this trend. But to do that, we first have to acknowledge the problem and make a commitment to pursue public policies designed to create a more balanced society.

Gov. Peter Shumlin talked about rebuilding the middle class during his 2010 campaign, and both the administration and the Legislature are moving forward on plans to measure government performance by looking at indicators of Vermonters’ well-being. A measurement of Vermont’s income gap ought to be one of those indicators.

The final results aren’t in yet on how towns voted on the income disparity resolutions, which were initiated by the Vermont Progressive Party. In Marshfield, it passed with strong support, 66-19. It also passed in Burlington, Winooski, Bakersfield, Middletown Springs, and Marlboro.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on March 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm

One Response to “Income disparity was also a Town Meeting topic”

  1. Jack,
    Thanks for this recent post. Although we are often quick to celebrate our good socio-economic metrics in education, health care and the like, there are, as you all point out above, negative indicators in the pattern of our income growth in Vermont.

    From our work on the Legislative Tax Commission, I am reminded by a recent Federal Reserve Report that Vermont had the fastest growth in income disparity between 1989 and 2004 and we remain very near the top for income reported from interest & dividends as related to actual earned income.

    The accretion of wealth in Vermont is not the problem. The stagnant to declining income in the lower and middle income brackets is, however, and as you rightly point out above reflects a serious threat to our economic and social stability.

    Not my idea of the best place for Vermont to lead the nation.