August 26th, 2019

Guest Opinion: Perception and Reality about Vermont Migration

By Stephanie Yu
Young people and rich people are moving to Vermont.

If this surprises you, you aren’t alone. You’re more likely to hear that the young and the wealthy are fleeing Vermont for better opportunities. Your neighbors bought a condo and moved to Florida. Your daughter got a good job and took off for Chicago.

So yes, people move out of Vermont. But here’s what else is happening: They’re moving in.

About the same number of young people move to Vermont as leave the state each year. That’s true of high-income people too.

These facts come from two recent reports by Public Assets Institute. The first, Migration update: Most Vermonters stay put analyzes migration into and out of Vermont, using new Internal Revenue Service data that includes age and income information. The second, 10 states account for most Vermont migration, looks at 20 years of migration data that tracks the states where most migrants come from and go to.

Both reports show that most people of all ages and walks of life stay put—only about 3 to 4 percent of Vermonters move out of state in any year.

And not only is the number about the same for people leaving and those arriving. The most popular destinations for Vermonters moving out are also the states most new Vermonters come from. The top four are Vermont’s three bordering states—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York—and Florida.

As for high-income people, those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more, the IRS data show that more of them moved into Vermont than out every year the data have been collected—2012, 2013 and 2014. For people with low incomes, more leave every year than move in.

We don’t know why there is such a disconnect between Vermonters’ perception and the reality about who’s coming and who’s going.

Maybe it’s because we all know people who have decided to leave. They’re our friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. But we don’t know the newcomers.

Maybe it’s a question of scale. We might know 5 or 10, or even 20, people who left; that feels like a big out-migration. But these numbers are a tiny percentage of the 15,000 who come and go each year.

Maybe it’s that we expect young Vermonters to go explore while they’re still unencumbered. And it’s true that those under 26 are more likely to move than other age groups. But the data also show that this migration is not one way. Nearly as many young people from other places come to explore Vermont.

People move for a lot of reasons including taking a job, being near family, or retiring. Maybe instead of dwelling on who’s not staying, policymakers should focus on why thousands like Vermont so much that they’ve pulled up stakes and relocated here. That might provide some insight into where the state should invest its resources to make Vermont an even more attractive place to live, work, and play.

Stephanie Yu is an analyst at Public Assets Institute, a non-partisan nonprofit in Montpelier (publicassets.org).

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