For Many Vermonters, Hard Times Continue

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(HOST) The national recession has been over since June 2009.  But for many in Vermont, that’s just a technicality. 

Despite reports that say Vermont is faring well compared to other states in economic growth, economists say there are other factors that are keeping individuals from feeling better about their economic security. 

VPR’s Jane Lindholm has more.

(Lindholm) This month, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis came out with a report that ranked Vermont the 10th best state in the country for economic growth.  And Vermont’s unemployment rate, at 5.4 percent, is much lower than the 9 percent national average.

But those statistics belie the fact that many people are still feeling the pain from several years of depressed growth.  Vermonters detailed their frustration on on VPR’s Vermont Edition.

(Listeners) "I think Vermonters are actually much worse off now than they were, say, about 10 years ago.  There’s a huge disconnect between what people make and what the costs of living are."

"I’m out six months.  I still haven’t been able to find work and the few things that have come up in the state of Vermont-and they’re rare-are hard to come by.  And most of the jobs are in another state.  So I’m definitely not feeling great."

"My earning power is the same as it was in 1988.  So I don’t think we’re very rosy.  I don’t think things are going very well."

(Lindholm) Policy analyst Jack Hoffman with the Montpelier think tank the Public Assets Institute says there’s a very legitimate reason people are feeling more pinched.

(Hoffman) "The fact is that real median household income has grown just 2 percent in the last 20 years-that’s from 1989 to 2009.  So I think that’s how a lot of Vermonters feel, that they just aren’t getting ahead.  And it’s not just this recession. They haven’t been getting ahead for a long time."

(Lindholm) But all statistics have to be taken into context and UVM economist Art Woolf says there are other measures that show Vermonters are *better off than they were 20 years ago. 

(Woolf) "There’s a difference between a household and a family.  Households are a group of people living together, single people.  We tend to think more of families when we think about wellbeing. And if we look at family income in the last 20 years it’s up 20 percent.  It’s down a lot in the last five or six years because of the recession, there’s no doubt about that.  So the good news is things are a lot better than they were 20 years ago."

(Lindholm) So where does that leave the Vermonters who say, regardless of the statistics, they *feel worse off than they were five or even 20 years ago? 

Well, economist Art Woolf and analyst Jack Hoffman both agree that any progress on the economy will have to be made in increasing the standard of living for the middle class.  Only then will the statistics line up with the emotional reality of the individuals who make up the data. 

For VPR News, I’m Jane Lindholm.

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