Committee examines Vermont’s aging demographics

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(Host) A new state commission is considering dramatic demographic changes in Vermont. The group met for the first time on Thursday and hopes to recommend ways to encourage more young people to work and live in Vermont in the future.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Vermont is facing some stark demographic facts. The state’s workforce is getting older largely because fewer young people are choosing to work in Vermont. At the same time, the number of students enrolled in the state’s public school system has declined by roughly one percent a year for much of the past decade and this trend is expected to continue for another ten years.

Governor Jim Douglas has identified this issue as the biggest long term problem facing the state of Vermont. A special panel, known as the “Next Generation” committee was appointed by Douglas and legislative leaders to examine this issue. The group is expected to make specific recommendations by the end of the year.

Bill Stenger, the president of Jay Peak, is the chairman of the panel:

(Stenger) “Where the real work will come will be in recommending some direction as it relates to workforce development issues. How do we make sure we know where our jobs are coming from in the future? And a lot of what I think we’re going to learn in these next weeks is what directions do we need to go to be quick and nimble as an educational community, but also as a job creating and job fulfilling community.”

(Kinzel) Vermont has one of the oldest populations of any state in the country but Stenger doesn’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing:

(Stenger) “Well, there are some misunderstandings about the demographics. We’re an aging population but we’re not an aging population of poor, incapable people. People are going to work longer. Our senior population is the wealthiest component of the United States populace that there is. And so when you just scratch the surface of the demographic it might say one thing but when you dig a little deeper it says a lot more.”

(Kinzel) Stenger also thinks it’s critical to provide additional programs for thousands of Vermont’s high school seniors:

(Stenger) “We’ve got a third of our high school students that are not prepared for anything. They’re not going on to higher education and they have not come through a career center program they have little skills and they wind up being retrained and retrained down the line. We’ve got to stem that tide and I think we can.”

(Kinzel) The legislature this spring allocated five million dollars for college scholarship and workplace training programs. Stenger says his panel will make recommendations about how to spend these funds.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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