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Capitol Beat: What the numbers don’t say
Vermont Press Bureau, November 29, 2015

Republicans are crying foul over the latest unemployment rate released by the Vermont Department of Labor, saying it doesn’t tell the full story. It doesn’t.

The state’s unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent last month, but there was a sharp drop in the number of Vermont employees — 2,050 fewer than the previous month. That means more Vermonters have left the work force.

Like many states, Vermont is facing a demographic challenge as more working-age Vermonters reach retirement. Simply put, there are not enough younger Vermonters to keep pace.

“While Governor Shumlin and the Vermont Democrats continue to tout Vermont’s low unemployment percentage, the real story lies just below their superficial statements and political platitudes,” David Sunderland, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, wrote in a statement last week.

The state’s unemployment rate, the eighth-lowest in the country, “is not an indication of economic strength and stability, a vibrant climate of job creation, or an expanding economy,” Sunderland said.

“Instead, it is an indication that more and more Vermonters have lost hope and are leaving our state for opportunities elsewhere or are giving up their job hunts completely,” he said. “It is also a painful reminder that Vermont is not attracting new, younger workers.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a candidate for governor, spelled out in his own statement what a smaller workforce means.

“As our workforce shrinks, so too does the tax base,” he said. “That means the remaining workers have to shoulder a greater share of the tax burden, while wages stay the same and costs of living rise.”

Scott, however, laid out a simplistic solution with few new ideas on how to achieve it.

“If we make Vermont more affordable, and build a more robust economy, current Vermonters will stay, new Vermonters will come, wages will rise, and tax revenue will increase so we can invest in the future of our state,” he said.