You are here

Two Vermonts

2019-10-23

As seen in the Rutland Herald: https://www.rutlandherald.com/opinion/editorials/two-vermonts/article_13...

Vermont seems to have a pretty good story to tell right now. But indications are that there really are “Two Vermonts.”

According to the new Rural Life Survey commissioned by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS, generally Vermonters enjoy life in their rural communities, and most say they’re optimistic about the future. The poll, conducted earlier this year, also reveals stark challenges threatening the future of rural economies that experts say are in a time of “enormous transition,” according to its results.

This is not surprising.

As VPR noted in its account that complemented the survey results, “Life in rural Vermont isn’t always easy, but there’s a reason the people who live in this state have decided to call it home: … overall quality of life.”

This survey of 801 Vermonters, conducted between Aug. 26 and Sept. 9, is part of a project by VPR and Vermont PBS called “This Land: The Changing Story of Rural Vermont.”

VPR interviewed Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, who indicated that the story of rural Vermont is indeed changing.

But, he noted in the interview, this state is no stranger to transition.

“We were a land of pioneers,” Costello said. “We were a forest economy that became a potash economy that became a small-farm subsistence economy that became a fabric and textile economy, a mill town economy.”

Costello said those different waves of economic activity have conditioned the land and conditioned its communities. And now, he said, Vermont finds itself in the midst of yet another transition.

The survey also found that:

— 20% of people think access to high-speed internet is a problem.

— 11% say they were unable to access health care when they needed it.

— 40% of Vermonters say if they had an unexpected expense of $1,000, they’d have trouble paying it right away.

— More Vermonters than not said they’d advise an 18-year-old to leave the state, in order to build a successful life and career.

One area in which Vermonters seem to take great pride is agriculture.

Vermont dairy is supported by nine out of 10 Vermonters, according to the poll. Secretary Anson Tebbetts said, “Vermonters support farms and farmers. It’s our duty to make sure farmers have the tools and finances to remain on their farms and land, so we can continue to develop our collective vision for Vermont with the contributions of our farmers, dairy and all agriculture.”

And dairy remains a high-profile contribution to the state’s economy. Tebbetts noted as much in his remarks.

He pointed to projects currently under way to improve the dairy economy.

Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle noted, “Agriculture is critical to improving Vermont’s rural economy. We believe we can offer more support for our farmers and processors by working with an Ag Agency employee as part of our day-to-day work team.”

We need to hear those success stories.

But the challenges remain, and a few of them are acute.

According to the Rural Life Survey, that crisis is particularly acute for Vermonters who lack a college education.

Rich Clark, the professor of political science at Castleton University who directed the survey, told VPR that Vermonters’ perceptions about quality of life differ significantly among people with differing levels of education.

“Forty-nine percent of those with a (four-year) college degree said it’s ‘excellent,’ as opposed to only 22% with a high school diploma or less,” Clark said.

“I don’t want to go so far as to say there are, you know, the two Vermonts,” Clark said. “But there’s a very different approach to life and a very different feeling about life in rural Vermont if you have money as opposed to if you don’t.”

To see the full VPR/VTPBS poll, visit http://projects.vpr.org/rural-life-survey-2019-vpr-vermont-pbs