The 10-year Winter Of Vermont’s Employment Discontent

Vermont is currently enjoying one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country.  Enjoying.  Yes, like most things in Vermont,

An economy so strong you can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

An economy so strong you can’t stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

“enjoying” comes with a bit of a caveat.  If by enjoying you mean “having a low unemployment rate with one of the weakest state economies in the country”, then yes, there is much to be enjoyed.

Yet even in the state’s own monthly statement on the labor market (November 2016), there seems to be some signs of reality slipping in.  Those signs only appear after the preamble, of course, because low unemployment is automatically great news for Vermonters:

The Vermont Department of Labor announced today that the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for November was 3.2 percent. This reflects a decrease of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised October rate (3.3 percent). The national rate in November was 4.6 percent. As of the prior month’s initial data, the Burlington-South Burlington Metropolitan NECTA was tied for the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the country for all metropolitan areas at 2.2 percent (not-seasonally-adjusted). Overall, Vermont’s unemployment rate was also tied for sixth lowest in the country for the same time period.

That must mean thousands of people are moving to Vermont to enjoy its robust economy and vast repositories of high-paying jobs just waiting to be filled by eager workers, right?  Right?

No.  The number is just a reflection of the declining size of Vermont’s labor force, not the number of unemployed.  In fact, the state’s lowest unemployment rate for the year was 3.1%, back in May 2016.

While the unemployment rate barely changed between May and November, the labor force shrunk by 1,200 people, and the total number of employed shrunk by 1,300 people, which results in a total unemployed number that’s barely changed.  Yet there are 1,300 fewer people employed between the state’s lowest unemployment rate month (May 2016) and last month (November 2016).

2016-labor

Telling Vermonters in a press release that Vermont’s unemployment rate is tied for sixth-lowest in the country is so meaningless (absent any context), it’s almost deceptive.  But the November press release goes on:

“The Vermont economy is more stable than the month-to-month data might suggest, as increases and declines are “ironed out” at the

Welcome to Vermont!

Welcome to Vermont!

conclusion of the year. What we can see is a slower rate of job gains this year than in recent years. Yet, with Vermont’s low unemployment rate, it’s still a tight labor market with recruitment and retention challenges for our employers; and a limited availability of workers can adversely impact economic expansion and growth.

Yes, it’s always going to be a tight labor market when the labor force is shrinking annually, and has been since its 40-year peak in April, 2009, at 361,200 Vermonters in the labor force.  In November, 2016, that number is 344,750.  That’s 16,000 fewer workers in the labor force in 7 years.  Vermont is featuring an annual worker reduction of more than 2,000 workers per year.

A couple of numbers from the state’s historical labor data that never seem to make it into the state’s semi-rosy press releases:

  • The average monthly number of workers in the labor force for 2016 is 345,000.  In 2006, this average is just shy of 357,000.  A reduction of 12,000 workers in the labor force.
  • The average monthly number of people employed in the labor force for 2016 is 334,000.  In 2006, this average is just shy of 344,000.  A reduction of 10,000 employed workers.

In fact, taking a look at a few of the lowest employment months in 2016, and comparing them to the historical high numbers in 3 cateogories – Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment – and then compare them to the 2009 numbers, a certain trend becomes clear:

  • Vermont’s number of employed is relatively the same for the past 10 years.
  • Vermont’s labor force is shrinking dramatically, at a rate higher than the decline of unemployed – which creates a decreasing unemployment rate.  This decreasing unemployment rate masks the fact that there is little to no job growth in the state for the last 10 years.

The historical context is…painful.

But the state’s conclusion as to how to address this issue, the fix, is a howler that has to be read at least twice to understand the depth of the disconnect:

Vermont needs to effectively utilize every state and federal job-training dollar to get people into jobs, and we need to address issues that will help Vermont be more successful: promoting gender equity, workplace civility, bringing under-represented populations into the workforce, creating job training programs that guarantee employment at the conclusion, and resolving the “benefit cliff” so that anyone who wants to work can do so without suffering adverse economic impacts.

Oh, so that’s all it takes!  Gender equity will create high-paying manufacturing, technical, and financial jobs for all inequitably-gendered Vermonters to enjoy!  I’d gasp with pride but I’m too busy gasping in astonishment.

Let’s look at that State of Vermont sanctioned checklist to fix the economy a bit more closely:

  • Gender equity (I’m assuming this reflects how much you have invested in the value of your house based on gender?)
  • Workplace civility (remember, you have to have a job first before the workplace’s civility can be measured by the Vermont State Civility Department)
  • Bringing under-represented populations into the workforce (like actual Vermonters, I’m guessing here?)
  • Create job training programs (because decades of job training programs have resulted in the numbers above, so let’s double-down on that approach).
  • Resolve the benefit cliff (this from the state that tried to institute single-payer, a system that has failed in Vermont as well as nationally, and has created people taking more part-time jobs because Obamacare’s incentives are upside-down).

Here’s what’s not mentioned in the press release, so I offer these up as suggestions to the State of Vermont, if they’re not too busy creating gender civility or the like:

  • Lower taxes – on income and property.
  • Reduced regulation by a state that’s paying for advertising on the horrors of contractor workers being, y’know, employed.  As a
    I hear there's an opening at WalMart. I'm on it.

    I hear there’s an opening at WalMart. I’m all over it.

    contractor.  By agreeing to a contract.  For work.

  • By creating a business-friendly business environment.  When you’re ranked 46th out of 57 states, well, there’s some room to grow.
  • Stop electing governors who promise something for free but winds up costing $200 million to “cover” only a small fraction of Vermonters who were uninsured, but qualified for insurance of some kind regardless of Peter Shumlin’s flailing attempts at implementing single-payer, and, well, you’d get more businesses interested in investing and expanding in Vermont when they know their costs won’t swing on the whims of state politicians interested in national offices.  Like in DC.  (Ahem).
  • Stop electing governors who usurp the authority of the state’s Public Service Board (which is supposed to represent the peoples’ interest, not the governor’s) and shutter the cheapest and most reliable electricity in the state’s history – Vermont Yankee.
  • Stop electing governors who tout new ‘clean-energy’ jobs as part of the state’s job-growth numbers, while happily ignoring the fact that federal subsidies – funded by taxpayers – pay for the bulk of those new ‘jobs’.

That said, the first step for any corrective action is up to Vermonters, who, at least in the last election cycle, seemed to have grasped what works, and what does not work.  It’s time for the State of Vermont to catch up to its citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The 10-year Winter Of Vermont’s Employment Discontent

  1. Chris,

    As always “spot on” and yet almost no one in Montpelier has the intelligence to comprehend that it is their legislative insanity that is creating the economic death spiral Vermont is currently experiencing ! Trust Me, they will probably want to argue that an “economic death spiral” isn’t such a bad thing !

    Again, thank you for sheading some light into the statistical darkness that encircles the “golden bubble.”

    Like

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