MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont’s population decreased last year for the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century, according to U.S. Census figures, with more people leaving the state than moving in. The exodus is part of a broader trend in which the state’s population growth rate has hovered just above zero for several years.
While the fiscal 2012 population decline of 581 people was small, it was the first time since 1944 that Vermont lost population, the University of Vermont and economist Art Woolf said.
Vermont, with a population estimated at 626,592, still has more births than deaths. But those changes couldn’t offset the 1,726 people who left the state in the year that ended June 30, the statistics show.
The population decline is a challenge for the state’s efforts to create good-paying jobs.
“We knew this was coming,” said Vermont Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller, who first noticed the trend when the number of students in schools began to decline several years ago. “When you just looked at what was happening in the schools, clearly we were going to hit that point.”
More people moving out of Vermont than into it has been a trend for at least a decade, but the 2012 figure was greater than the net number of people — 1,124 — who left the state between 2000 and 2009, the statistics showed.
Woolf said the population decline means businesses will have a harder time finding employees. Because the state has an aging population, the tax base won’t be growing. And it’s young people who tend to innovate and create new businesses.
The trend of small population growth is something Vermont officials have been aware of for some time, Miller said. Demographically, Vermont — with its small minority population — is reflecting nationwide trends that show small growth of the country’s majority white population, he said.
“We are conscious of the need to have more Vermonters,” Miller said.
He didn’t have an explanation about why the number of people leaving the state spiked in 2012, beyond the possibility that people were forced out of the state by housing disruptions caused by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. “Clearly, our Vermont companies are recruiting heavily. We’ve got a low unemployment rate. We need more people in our labor force. So I see those things as definitely attracting people,” Miller said.