by Jeff Wennberg
Governor Shumlin’s singular focus on education in his inaugural address cited anecdotal comments from high-tech Vermont employers that can’t find the skilled workers they need. He argued that our schools are not preparing enough young Vermonters to qualify for our best employment opportunities. His prescription was a massive increase in education spending, although, as has been the case with health care reform, budgets and funding sources were essentially ignored.
The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) has produced statistical estimates that directly challenge Shumlin’s claim. According to NCHEMS, between 2005 and 2007, the most recent period available, Vermont suffered an estimated net loss of 704 people between the ages of 22 and 39. Among those with a high school degree and some college the loss was 44 individuals. But within this same age group Vermont suffered a net loss of 1,044 people with associate’s degrees or above. Over the same period Vermont imported a net 498 twenty-two to thirty-nine year olds with less than a high school diploma.
Think about it: even if Vermont’s schools totally failed to prepare skilled workers (which they don’t), why wouldn’t skilled out-of-staters flock here, especially with national unemployment stuck at elevated levels? And the thousands of young Vermonters who graduate from colleges and universities with the needed skills seek and find opportunities outside Vermont rather than here. Why? Could it be that many of Vermont’s social and tax policies are hostile to productive young individuals and families?
Consider Vermont’s policy to require health insurers to use ‘community rating,’ which prohibits insurers from considering the age of an individual or group when setting premiums. Because young people tend to require little in the way of health care services and seniors require more, the effect of this rule is to force young healthy folks to pay much more for their insurance so that their elders can pay less. According to a 2012 study by GOHealth Insurance.com, a male age 60 will pay nearly 300 percent higher premiums than a 20 year old, assuming the same coverage. But in Vermont the rates are the same, somewhere in the middle. Not surprisingly, this hidden tax on the young makes Vermont a more costly and therefore less attractive place to be employed.
Health insurance is one of many Vermont policies that discourage the young from staying or settling here, with one exception. Young families with children who rely on public assistance for health care, housing or basic subsistence would be hard pressed to find a more attractive state.
VTDigger.com reports that the recent upsurge in Developmental Services Program caseloads is likely the result of several factors, but first among them is ‘refugee caseloads.’ Refugee cases are individuals who migrate to Vermont to take advantage of attractive social welfare benefits. In 2011, Vermont ranked third in the nation behind New York and New Mexico in Medicaid enrollment as a share of population. New Hampshire, which has higher incomes and lower poverty, was fourth lowest, at half Vermont’s rate.
If Governor Shumlin is interested in meeting the demand for skilled workers and making Vermont a more attractive place for educated young people to work and raise families, the evidence suggests the problem is not with our schools but with our priorities.
Vermonters for Health Care Freedom
P.O. Box 1515
Montpelier, VT 05601