By Art Woolf
Vermont’s demographics differ from the nation in two very important ways: We are an old state and we are overwhelmingly white.
Being an old state is a relatively recent occurrence. Vermont’s age distribution was very similar to the U.S. until the 1990s. Vermont’s ethnic and racial composition has been different from the U.S. since Vermont became the 14th state in 1791.
The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that as of 2019 Vermont continued its 30-year trend of becoming one of the oldest states in the nation and it remains one of the least racially and ethnically diverse states in the U.S.
With a median age of 43.0 years, Vermont is the third oldest state in the nation. Only Maine and New Hampshire are older. Even Florida, with a median age of 42.5, is younger than Vermont. The median-aged Vermonter was born in 1976, nearly five years before the median-aged American.
In 2019 one out of every five Vermonters was over the age of 65. Only three states — Maine, Florida and West Virginia — had a higher share of their population eligible for Medicare. Most population forecasts predict that in another decade, one out of four Vermonters will be over 65. Compare that to 1990, when only one out of eight Vermonters was over 65, a lower share than the nation as a whole.
Vermont also differs from the nation in its racial and ethnic makeup. A large 92.6% of the state’s population was non-Hispanic white on July 1, 2019, compared to 60.1% of the total U.S. population. Only Maine has a larger white population share than Vermont, but Maine’s 93.0% share is virtually indistinguishable from Vermont. The only other state with more than a 90% white share of population is West Virginia.
Vermont’s minority populations are all small, and nearly evenly divided at 2.1% Black, 2.0% Hispanic and 2.4% Asian. The comparisons between Vermont and the U.S. are dramatic. Nationally, 14.7% of the population is Black, 18.5% is Hispanic, and Asians comprise 7.0% of the state’s 624,000 residents. Vermont’s minority populations have been increasing this decade, but very slowly. In 2010, 1.5% of Vermonters were Black, 1.5% were Hispanic and 1.7% were Asian.
Despite their small overall population shares, minority populations have been the only sources of population growth in the state this decade. Between 2010 and 2019, Vermont’s population declined by about 2,000. The white population fell by more than 10,000, but Vermont today has 3,400 more Blacks, 3,400 more Hispanics and 4,600 more Asians than nine years ago. Without the increase in minority populations, Vermont’s population decline would have been five times larger than its actual experience.
Art Woolf is a recently retired associate professor of economics at the University of Vermont. He is currently a columnist for VTDigger.