Vermont labor gap: a matter of demographics

Robert Maynard

I recently came across an article in the Vermont Digger that highlights Vermont Futures Project’s identification of the workforce gap in Vermont.  It referenced a report, which concludes that:

The so-called workforce supply gap is the result of more people retiring and fewer people entering the workforce. According to the report, 11,375 Vermonters retire every year, and an additional 7,600 jobs are open for other reasons. At the same time, only 8,000 young people enter the workforce from either high school or college.

Of course one solution mentioned in the report is to attract more immigrants, but the long term answer is to address the fertility issue, as Vermont has the lowest birthrate in the nation.  I would like to suggest that there is a missing dimension to both the fertility issue and our ability to welcome new immigrants that is getting little discussion.  Let me address the immigration issue first.

If we are to attract more immigrants to Vermont, we will need to consider the cultural shock that many experience in immigrating from a culture where religion is a vital part of life to one in which that is increasingly not the case.  We need to heed the lesson provided by France’s problem with assimilation.  Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is a Muslim, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Syria. He is also the founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an organization that works to integrate the principles of our Declaration of Independence with his Muslim faith. In November of 2005, after witnessing the riots in the “French” Muslim communities, he co-authored an article entitled “American secularism offers lesson to France.” Here is his insight into why Europe is having a harder time integrating its Muslim community than America is:

Many have been quick to compare America’s challenges with its own Muslim population to Europe’s, but there is a central difference. America is a place where all spirituals paths are supported. It is a country where God is freely talked about in its founding documents. This gives great support to all faiths, especially those in the minority. It gives all people of faith a sense that they belong here.

This language reaffirming man’s spiritual nature is what is sorely missing in Europe. If one takes away that foundation, one is left with a cold secularism that, in turn, becomes the most attractive breeding ground for religious fanatics.

In that anti-religious environment, where is the truly devotional to turn? On one side there is the “God is dead” people, and on the other is the “Your God is dead” people. To someone who simply is trying to practice his faith, this is a toxic environment indeed.

The question is how to promote the individual innovativeness so valuable to an entrepreneurial society without sacrificing the traditional values that were the glue holding earlier societies together. 

The second matter to address is a declining birthrate and an aging population. These factors pose a number of problems for any civilization. The question is how do we mitigate these factors. Demographic expert Phillp Longman wrote an article entitled “The Global Baby Bust,“for the May/June 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs, in which he shed some light on the subject: “Today there is a strong correlation between religious conviction and high fertility. In the United States, for example, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that the ideal family size is three or more children, as compared to only 27 percent of those who seldom attend church.”

Here is the conclusion that Longman reaches from his observations of global demographic data: “Does this mean that the future belongs to those who believe they are (or who are in fact) commanded by a higher power to procreate? Based on current trends, the answer appears to be yes.”

Taking the question of religious values seriously in the public square need not be a sectarian matter, or violate our separation of Church and State.  There are ways to take the notions expressed by our Declaration of Independence serious in our public discussion that include this of all faiths.  Again such an approach is not just a matter of utility, but a key factor in human development. According to a study entitled “Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities,” human beings are “hardwired” to connect to a transcendent source of moral meaning and purpose and to an authoritative community that transmits this sense of meaning and purpose.

3 thoughts on “Vermont labor gap: a matter of demographics

  1. I appreciate your efforts to find causes for Vt’s fragility.

    Modern parents are being told that a third child is contributing to the death of the planet. Zero children is better. The world will starve. Cost of living is so expensive a second or third child is hardly affordable! One parent works to provide for the family, the other parent works almost soley to support the government. Gov’t now wants you children as young as possible for “proper training.”

    Further, regardless of our Constitution and framing documents, those who have gained control by hook or crook, are now telling us that we are not a religious nationn and should not be one. I speak not of “Freedom of Religion”, but the damands that religion be deeply confined to one day a week in one specific place, and maybe you can pray over your pillow

    we may be able to get rid of elderly Vermonters, by driving them financially out of Vermont to more friendly places – reducing the burden on the few remaining workers.

    A letter to the editor in the BFP poonted out that Vt is one of very few states which double taxes SS “income” We paid a tax on our earnings,then for those of us self employed we had to pay double – after taxes – 17% of our income to SS contributions. Then when we get part of that money back – highly inflated – we have to pay more “income taxes” on that.

    Enough Rant – but it’s true.

  2. One only stroll through Woodstock after dark on a winter evening and observe the number of dark homes. The second home owners are spending their winters elsewhere. Here in North Bridgewater there are mostly second home owners. Rather than attract immigrants, I suggest that Vermont become a business friendly state to attrack companies which provide skilled jobs with decent pay. Suspect younger folks would move here. The life style is here, but there are few attractive jobs.

    • If you read the report closely, one of the reasons why we are n ot a business friendly state is the labor gap. Bussinesses will not expand if the labor pool is not sufficient. The free flow of people and goods has always been a major key to prosperity, which is why one of the grievences against the King in our Declaration of Independece was that he restricted immigration to the colonies.

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