States median income still declining
MONTPELIER — Recent U.S. Census Bureau figures show Vermont’s median income continues to decline.
In fact, when inflation is factored in, Vermonters’ are earning less in real dollars than they were a decade ago.
According to this month’s census data, the 2012 median income in Vermont was $52,977, which means half of Vermont’s household earned above that figure and half below.
When inflation is factored in, the Census Bureau says Vermonters’ earnings have actually declined – and while the recession has been a factor, the trend was underway even before that.
The decline in the past 12 years is about 1.6 percent.
“For low and middle income Vermonters, they’re essentially being pushed back in two ways,” says Paul Cillo, executive director of the Public Assets Institute.
“One is that their incomes aren’t keeping place for inflation, and the other is that their costs for essentials are going up faster than inflation: things like food and fuel, health care, college education.”
Vermont is not alone. All but a handful of states have experienced a drop in median household income in the past decade.
Cillo says there are many reasons for the trend including more efficient technology leading to fewer jobs, a decline in union jobs, and an exodus of higher-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.
Middlebury College economics professor Peter Matthews says while recent data indicates the decline may be at an end there’s nothing to indicate median incomes will rebound in the near term.
Matthews says compared to many other states Vermont’s decline has been relatively modest.
One reason may be the state’s low unemployment rate, which means a greater likelihood that a Vermont household has more than one wage earner.
“Unlike much of the country, I don’t think that number has moved all that much during the most recent downturn, so a Vermont household is more likely to have multiple earners in it,”he says.
Matthews says households still feel the pinch as costs rise and he says the gap between median and average income is widening, as income disparity grows in Vermont and elsewhere.
“It’s possible to talk about a median Vermont or American household whose situation hasn’t changed very much at the same time as we acknowledge that there’s been enough overall income growth for the most prosperous or affluent among us to experience very substantial real income growth over the same period,” Matthews says.
Matthews and Cillo say while the factors contributing to the stagnation of median incomes are national or even global, there are steps states can take to moderate costs in area like health care costs and tax policy and efforts to attract higher paying jobs.
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