Gosh, maybe Vermont isn’t such a bad place after all

We hear a lot of bad news about Vermont, especially from Republicans. They seem to be hoping Vermont will fail, based on their constant bad-mouthing. (Interesting that a plank of Phil Scott’s economic platform is more resources on marketing the state as a place to do business. If Vermont sucked as bad as the VTGOP thinks, any such marketing would be, ahem, lying.)

And then once in a while we get a ray of sunshine piercing through their doom and gloom. Today comes Politico Magazine’s third annual ranking of the 50 states (plus D.C.) in “State of the Union” terms. i.e. which states are in the best (and worst) shape overall.

And where do they rank Vermont?


Third best in the country.

It should be pointed out here that Politico isn’t exactly leftist. It is, in fact, a bastion of conventional thinking. And this ranking was based on a wide variety of factors: health, education, financial security, unemployment, crime, overall well-being, prosperity. Fourteen categories in all.

Nice little state we’ve got here, eh?

FYI, New Hampshire and Minnesota finished ahead of Vermont. The bottom tier is pretty much the Old Confederacy: Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana occupy the last four spots.

How did we fare so well? Consistency. Vermont was in the top ten in seven of the 14 categories, and only failed to make the top 20 in only one. And we were 21st in that one (per capita employment in science, engineering, and computer tech).

The 14 categories and Vermont’s ranking (assume 1st is best in all categories):

Per capita income: 19th
Unemployment rate: 10th
Percent below poverty line: 14th
Home ownership: 8th
High school graduation rate: 8th
Life expectancy: 5th
Infant mortality: 8th
Obesity rate: 20th
“Wellbeing score”*: 14th
Income inequality: 11th
Violent crime: 1st
% employed in science, engineering, computer: 21st
8th grade reading score: 2nd
8th grade math score: 5th

*A broad measure including a variety of factors: financial security, physical and emotional health, strong society/communities, access to the necessities of life.

Gee, for all the carping about our school system’s cost and quality, we’re doing a much better than average job of teaching our kids, aren’t we? And maybe all that liberal meddling in the health care system is paying some dividends; we rank very highly in most measures of health. That must have something to do with making insurance available to more and more Vermonters.

Staunch conservatives may attack the design of Politico’s ranking. “What about taxation, business climate, government spending?” I can hear Rob Roper squeaking. Well, take that up with Politico.

One of my biggest differences with the conservative worldview is their tendency to evaluate quality of life and society in purely economic terms. They seem to think that economic liberty is the most important liberty of them all. Well, maybe second behind gun ownership.

To me, things like health, strong communities, personal safety and education are better indicators of real liberty. I can’t be free to pursue opportunity if I am personally or financially insecure, if I don’t have access to health care, if there isn’t a strong social safety net to catch me if I fall. Sure, I want the freedom to chase my dreams. And I am more able to do so if I have a sense of security in other areas of life.

I mean, how many would prefer to live in pro-“liberty” states like, oh, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana? Or other bottom-ranked bastions of conservatism like Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia?

The other conservative argument might center on Vermont’s natural advantages in certain categories, like violent crime, education, high per capita income and low unemployment, because we don’t have to deal with the problems of large decaying cities.

True enough. But then they shouldn’t bash Vermont for shortcomings that are out of our control. For instance, we do have relatively high electricity rates on a nationwide scale — but we’re better than or even with other states in the Northeast. Our region has built-in disadvantages when it comes to utility rates; it has nothing to do with our commitment to renewables or the closure of Vermont Yankee.

Take the good with the bad, and Vermont seems like an awfully good place to live. Not perfect, but far better than average. Maybe that’s an inconvenient message for Phil Scott’s campaign. But it’s a fact, Jack.

7 thoughts on “Gosh, maybe Vermont isn’t such a bad place after all

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      It’s true we face demographic challenges. I think you’ll find that our challenges are similar to those faced by rural states and the Northeast.

      Also, it’s not so much that “young people are leaving the state in droves.” It’s more like they’re leaving the rural areas in droves. The median age in Chittenden County is the lowest in the state and several years below the national median.

      And even so, the Politico report is the Politico report. It says we’re a pretty darn good state. Not perfect, and not without challenges and obstacles. But pretty darn good.

    2. Doug Hoffer

      It is no surprise that a good number of college grads leave. Wages for virtually all occupations are 20% – 40% higher in the metro areas of the northeast. If you have heavy education debt, what would you do?

    3. chuck gregory

      Our kids are leaving the state in droves because they’re smart, they’re curious, and they know they can master the bigger world out there. The last thing we want is for them to stay here and shut down, re-creating the intellectual and economic hillbillydom of New England that existed before the Interstate brought in fresh blood, fresh hopes and fresh ideas.

      When they come back, they will bring with them the best they found out there and add it to the mix. We need that.

  1. Walter Carpenter

    “Why are our kids leaving the state in droves then?”

    Kids have been leaving Vermont, and NH, Maine, NY, Mass, Ct, NJ, RI, Pa, etc. since the 18th century. They want to see and go someplace different, and then how many are coming into Vermont from everywhere else as part of the same desire to go to a different, and saner, place than where they came from?

  2. newzjunqie

    Since this–hopefully–may be the last year of the D/P reign in statehouse, righting the tax code the very least they could leave VT before the parting-shots montage. A Scott rule will be unlikely to go after the tax code, and if the right gets in and stays in for a long time, will not happen.

    As I read JVWalt roster of states re quality of life eankings, bottom ones with lower taxes are primarily in the south and Bible Belt–nothing inherently wrong with either except church-goers are easy to decieve as they are taught to obey government and all authority w/o question, yielding these states easy prey for all types of deception and poor working conditions – look at the coal industry – mindset also resulted in BP disaster which has not been remedied and probably never will.

    Evangelicals and Pentecostals very conservative and rightwing politics nearly indistinguishable from what is preached. I know b/c I was both, still believe but do not attend church nor involved w/organized religion.

    Taxes tend to be lower but quality of life takes a hit, environmental & employment issues take a back-seat to business. The states with higher rankings appear to be higher taxed. But one thing is different – the other high-quality states have a tax code which does not allow a windfall the 1-5% wealthy and high earners of VT haul in. And while personally not part of the “make the rich pay for everything” crowd, tax code, not “taxes” the issue here.

    VT loses at least $1 billion per year b/c of the tax code in relation to the other HQL states. Shummy shakes down VTers routinely to protect wealthiest of VTers as he is one of them. So iow, what this means is, if VTs was in line with other HQL states, the ones who scream about moving would have NH, ME, MN and it’s downhill from there. “High taxes” is decieving, devil as usual, hides in the details.


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