Compassion Index

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A while back I took a look at incomes in Vermont and New Hampshire. According to the Census Bureau’s “2000 Supplemental Survey”, New Hampshire’s median household income ranked seventh in the nation. Vermont ranked 26th, or roughly $10,000 per year per household behind New Hampshire – a difference attributed by many to New Hampshire’s more favorable business climate.

This was foreshadowed by a survey commissioned by the Vermont Department of Economic Development in August 2000. The Department hired the O’Neal Group, a national market consulting firm, to interview over 100 Vermont business people and telephone survey another 203 to find out what it was like to do business here. The answers stunned the state.

63 percent of the large businesses surveyed said it was somewhat difficult or very difficult to do business in Vermont. 58% of the small businesses agreed.

Their principal objections? The “permitting process,” and “regulatory environment” scored highest, with “taxes” third among small businesses and seventh among large ones.

The report also stated, “While the vast majority of small businesses still intend to expand in Vermont (if they expand at all), companies with 20 or more employees are increasingly choosing to expand outside the state because of the perceived difficulties of operating a business in Vermont.”

But hey, we know Vermont’s tough – that’s the way we like it. We accept high taxes to support extensive government services because we want to take care of society’s vulnerable – we’re proud of our social conscience. But what if we compared Vermont and New Hampshire’s social indicators?

In another interesting study, Vermont economist Art Woolf has done just that. Woolf was Vermont’s state economist during the Kunin Administration, is a professor of economics at UVM and is a principal with Northern Economic Consulting in Westford.

Woolf’s research has given us what I call the “compassion index.” For example, he found that in Vermont, one in ten residents live in poverty. In New Hampshire, it’s ¿ lower – one in thirteen. About a quarter of New Hampshire children live near or below the poverty line; but in Vermont it’s ¿ nearly twice that, at 42 percent.

How about health insurance? About one in ten Vermonters has no health coverage. In New Hampshire, it’s about one in twelve. Thanks to Dr. Dinosaur, only 1 out of 11 Vermont children is without health insurance, but in New Hampshire it’s lower – 1 out of 14.

It turns out that by almost any economic or social measure, the state with the strong economy delivers a higher quality of life than the state with the big government. Perhaps it’s best to measure our compassion not by how many are supported by the government, but by how few require it.

This is Jeff Wennberg in Rutland.

–Jeff Wennberg is a former mayor of Rutland.

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