(HOST)Commentator Allen Gilbert has been thinking about the way we face change. He has an idea for how we might address the demographic changes that some say Vermont will soon undergo.
(GILBERT) This always seems like a frenetic time of year to me. Maybe that’s because I follow the Legislature for my job. This is when lawmakers get serious about bills. Tough decisions have to be made. Recently we’ve heard about health care, gas taxes, crime bills, and college scholarships.
But I’m feeling another layer of uncertainty. I think it may be because of a book I’m reading – The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. It’s an analysis of globalization. Friedman explores a range of technological advances, and how they’ve enabled everything from “tight supply chains” to “outsourcing” to occur. Friedman explains the dangers – and opportunities – that globalization presents to our jobs, and to our kids’ jobs.
Our governor and others warn us that we may also face significant demographic changes. And it’s here that I think we have a real opportunity. The opportunity involves thinking outside of the box, and it involves health care.
The governor has warned that too many young people are leaving our state. We need to keep them here, he’s said. He’s proposed an expansive college scholarship program to try to do that.
It’s an appealing idea, but there are some problems. The program is described as a boon to kids, but it’s more a boon to Vermont colleges. Kids who leave the state for college, but come back after they graduate, won’t be eligible for the scholarships. The dollars must be spent at Vermont schools. It would be fairer to give the scholarships to any Vermont kids who return home after graduation – no matter where they go to school.
There’s another flaw with the program. Vermont kids who leave the state may be a brain drain, but non-Vermont kids who come to the state to study are a brain gain. By college officials’ own figures, about eighty-five percent of students take their first jobs within one hundred miles of the schools that they attend. Since we’re a net importer of students, that means every class graduating from a Vermont college or university produces many new workers who stay in the state for their first job. That brain gain isn’t the result of a scholarship program. It’s the result of statistics.
Here’s what I think, though, could be a huge incentive for young people to decide to make Vermont home. Imagine if we offered universal, publicly financed health care for everyone working in the state.
The reason this would keep young workers here is because many young workers go without health insurance. Vermont has few of the large industries that routinely offer full coverage. First-time jobs in Vermont are often in small companies – sometimes start-ups that don’t offer any coverage at all.
In The World is Flat, Friedman says that a competitive, global economy is inevitable. Workers will have to be nimble with their skills, adapt to new demands, and take risks. We can narrow those risks by offering universal health care. Now, that would be an incentive to stay in Vermont.
Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher, and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.