Art Woolf is at it again, making a mountain out of a molehill through the magic of exaggerated chart curves.

There’s nothing new about the alarm du jour.  Mr. Woolf, like his Ethan Allen Institute buddies is married to the idea that Vermont is “bad for business.” He fondly jumps on any statistic that can be used to reinforce that meme.

The aging of the population is one of his favorite bugaboos, and he revisits it on a regular basis.  Perhaps owing to a dearth of other material, The Free Press routinely gives him space in their “How We’re Doing” to say the same thing, over-and-over-again.

How are we doing? Frankly, we’re a little bored.

Mr. Woolf’s charts routinely describe relatively modest statistical differences with sweeping graphic overstatements. In this instance a population change from 60,000 seniors in 2000 to roughly twice that figure in 2020 is rendered so as to look like a quadrupling of the number.

Mr. Woolf ought to know better than to indulge in such visual trickery, but all that is very much beside the point. As usual, Mr. Woolf has chosen to cluck over specific conditions in Vermont while ignoring the rest of the country.

Yes, Vermont’s population is aging; but so is the population of the entire country.

The states that are looking at the most long-term growth in their youthful population are those with a large hispanic demographic.  That is a cultural phenomenon which has nothing to do with whether or not a state is “good for business.”

That same cultural phenomenon will ultimately tip the balance in favor of a non-“white” majority in this country; something that will most certainly not benefit the political agenda of Republicans like Mr. Woolf and the company he keeps.

And even the economic arguments around the “aging population” meme are faulty.  They maintain that prosperity depends upon retention and growth of a youthful population.  

While it is true that young people consume more than do older adults, this does not necessarily translate to overall prosperity if what they are consuming is no longer produced here in the U.S.

It does ensure prosperity for corporate America, who source their products elsewhere, then employ people at home in low-paying service jobs.  

This is the Walmart model; and Mr. Woolf, who is known to be a great proponent of the Walmart model, is unsurprisingly oblivious to its downside.

How are we doing in Vermont?  Most indicators suggest the we are doing rather well when compared to other states.  Can we do better? Of course we can.  

But better for whom?  If the benefit of a “better” business environment is not felt throughout the population, elevating the most disadvantaged Vermonters and maintaining a strong middle class while preserving a sustainable future, can it truly be described as prosperity?

A smart economic move for a state…any state…faced with an aging population, would be to build a skilled service economy around that demographic.  

People are living longer, thank goodness; and that is where the increase in the overall age of the population really lives.  

Those older folks may not consume as much material goods as their younger counterparts; but they will potentially consume far more in the way of skilled services like healthcare, quality food items, public transportation and specialty living aids that might be sourced from close to home…if we recognize the opportunity and devote some resources to education, research-dand-development, and innovative planning around those needs.  Successfully building such an economic model in Vermont will, in itself, attract a new generation of skilled workers to raise their families in Vermont, rejuvenating the state in the natural cycle of things.

Mr. Woolf is clinging to unsustainable economic assumptions from the past.

It’s time for Vermont to demonstrate that it can be nimble; to embrace and adapt to its changing demographic

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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