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Census Report Numbers Highlight Vermont's Population Decline

A Census Bureau worker
U.S. Census Bureau
A Census worker during a test run of the 2020 Census in Texas. For the first time in Census history, questionnaires can be submitted online using a computer or smartphone.

Vermont's population continues to shrink, and the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures show that since 2016 there have been more deaths in the state than births.

Not only that, but if the the numbers hold, 2010-2020 could be the first period of population loss between two censuses since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Art Woolf spoke to VPR's Mitch Wertlieb about the decline. Woolf is a former professor of economics at the University of Vermont, now a columnist at VTDigger.

For more — Listen to Woolf's conversation with VPR above, and read his column about the population data at VTDigger here.

Vermont's current estimated population stands at just under 624,000 people, with 400 fewer people living here in 2019 than 2018. In 2010, there were 1,800 more people living in the state than in 2019.

Woolf said that even amid a national trend of slowing growth, that stands out.

"The trend is that population growth in the U.S. is slowing, for two basic reasons: one, fewer immigrants, but even more importantly, fewer births," Woolf said. "But Vermont's still different because Vermont's going down. ... Our population's shrinking. The U.S. population is growing — it's just growing more slowly."

And since 2010, Woolf said, the estimated Census numbers show that more people have been moving out of Vermont annually than coming to settle in the state. As for the reasons why, Woolf pointed to some fundamental facts of Vermont life.

"We do know that people increasingly don't like to live in cold climates, and that's been true for a long time," Woolf said. "They also increasingly don't like to live in small towns and even small cities — and the biggest city in Vermont is really a small city by national norms. So people like to live in areas with, you know, maybe a million people in the metro area, and bigger. You know, the greater Burlington area is only about 150,000. So we're suffering from both of those: we have no big cities and we're cold."

For more — Latest numbers from the Census Bureau.

When asked if he thinks recent policies of grants that reimburse people for the costs of moving to the state could reverse the trend, Woolf is skeptical.

"I don't. I think the numbers are so small. I think there's more fundamental issues," Woolf said. "Obviously we can't change the weather. But I think it's other policies. You know, we do have high tax rates on rich people. We do have high property taxes, which affect everybody. And so some of those things, I think are things we can look at — that are levers that we can look at — to try to get people either to stay here or to move here."

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