Public Assets Institute > Blog > Let’s learn from the newcomers

Let’s learn from the newcomers

There has been a certain amount of hand-wringing for the last decade or so about how many rich people and young people are moving in and out of Vermont. Migration data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service are at the heart of the debate, which invariably focuses on the people leaving. Why don’t we pay more attention to the new arrivals, including the thousands of international immigrants who have settled in Vermont but aren’t counted by the IRS? They could tell us something about how to improve life for all Vermonters.

The IRS information comes from federal tax returns. The agency tracks the addresses from which returns are filed. Since early 1993 the IRS has been publishing reports showing the movement of tax filers each year from state to state and county to county. The reports for each state include the number of filers, who might be single or married couples; total exemptions claimed (including children), which serves as a proxy for the number of people; and total income. The IRS data also tell us the income and age brackets of the primary filers. For each bracket, we know how many people moved in, moved out, or stayed put.

As we’ve reported before, for about 25 years the number of people moving in from other states and Vermonters moving out has been pretty consistent—roughly 15,000 or 16,000 in each direction every year. Before the Great Recession, Vermont’s net annual migration was mostly positive—about 370 a year on average. From 2008 to 2016, Vermont lost an average of about 1,060 people a year, according to the tax returns.

U.S. Census population estimates add to the picture with international migration: More than 8,500 people from outside the U.S. came to Vermont between 2010 and 2018—over 1,000 people a year on average.

The Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) recently published a report based on the age and income migration data, which includes some caveats about the limitations of the information, especially the information on income. The report reiterates one thing we’ve known for years, though: Rich people are not fleeing the state—or at least they didn’t from 2012 to 2016, the years the report covers.

So we know a lot about the numbers: how many migrated, what their income brackets were, where they came from, where they went.

What we don’t know from any of the data, however, is why. Particularly, why the people who moved to Vermont decided to come. Rather than speculate about who’s leaving, wouldn’t it be more helpful to study those who have decided to move here?

Vermont is appropriating $500,000 over three years to try to attract people who want to work remotely for businesses or organizations based in other states. Grants of up to $5,000 a year are available to cover moving and other expenses for these workers who establish residence in Vermont. At $5,000 per grant, the program could draw 100 families by 2021.

What if we used that money instead to learn from the people who are choosing to make Vermont their home and raise their families here? Ask them what drew them here:  our good schools, our beautiful mountains and lakes, our microbreweries and organic farms, our close-knit communities? Once we find out, we could improve on the things they find most attractive about the state and promote those state assets.

Building on Vermont’s strengths will not only make Vermont a more attractive place to move. It will make life better for those who are still here: for all Vermonters—not just a lucky handful who get a $5,000 grant.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on October 4, 2019 at 8:00 am

4 Responses to “Let’s learn from the newcomers”

  1. Ernie Ciccotelli says:

    Where was all this concern for in-migrants to Vermont when I moved my family to Vermont in 1988? I don’t see the fairness in the concern now when there was no such concern under the same conditions back then. There are no more or less jobs on a per capita basis now than there were then. And there remains no more or less concern about those who are self employed in Vermont now than there was in 1988 either.

    What I observe is there is an effort to attract rich young people to Vermont, none of whom will share the wealth any better than their predecessors.

  2. Jerome Shedd says:

    Vermont has established what some of us have been working for since 1970: a stable population. Yes, there are downsides to stability, but there are greater downsides to growth. Before we continue paying people to move here, or studying why people move here in order to attract more, we need a state population policy. Do we want 1% growth per year in perpetuity? If so, are we ready to double our population in 70 years, handling the energy needs, the impact on Lake Champlain, etc? Do we want to grow to 1 million and then level off? Is a stable 1 million preferable to a stable 620,000?

    I submit that we have the stability that we need, and no effort to attract people need be undertaken.

  3. David Tucker says:

    Great commentary, Jack! Although it’s only anecdotal, we’ve seen a recent influx of young (30 yrs. old or so) families with children moving into the Northeast Kingdom – not huge numbers, but reminiscent of when our family moved here in the early 70’s, and, it appears, for the similar kind of attraction that Vermont had then. I do think that climate and political turmoil will serve to make Vermont increasingly more desirable in the years ahead. No ‘data’ on this, just my opinion.

  4. Ernie Ciccotelli says:

    Jerome Shedd is absolutely right.

    What he is describing in different words, is sustainability. Sustainability is the foundation of environmental protection and management, and is crucial to mitigation of climate change and other immediately pressing environmental and ecological problems. Sustainability, in short, comprises inter-generational equitability and the avoidance of depletion of resources – those resource including but not limited to air, water, space, land, and extractables.

    There is no such thing as “sustainable growth” of anything, whether one is discussing a population or an economy. Sustainable growth is an oxymoron. Sustainability incorporates limits. Growth assumes no limits.

    Not only must Vermont seek to become a sustainable entity, so must the US, and the entire planet.