By David Flemming
Just six months ago, Vermont had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. COVID-19 and the federal, state and local reaction to it has vaulted Vermont past all 49 other states by most any measure, placing our economy on an unemployment precipice.
The famous “unemployment rate” is often used as a barometer to diagnose the health of a state’s labor force. Those classified as “unemployed” are calculated as some fraction of the state’s overall labor force. When this figure stays stable, it is an excellent metric to reference how well the economy is doing. That begins to get at the bad news: Vermont has the second highest traditional unemployment rate, behind only Michigan.
But when something sudden like COVID-19 hits, there are other metrics we should look at. The traditional “unemployment rate” lags behind claims data, giving us the false impression that Vermont is weathering the storm. That’s why we should an “Unemployment Claims Rate,” which takes into account all of those receiving unemployment insurance, as well as those who have just applied.
Vermont has the highest percentage of its labor force receiving and asking for unemployment insurance in the entire US. Using data from the week ending April 25, the most recent date available, 5000 Vermonters filed for unemployment the first time, with 76,500 already receiving unemployment on an ongoing basis. This means 81,500 workers of Vermont’s 342,000 labor force are in employment limbo. That 23.8% number is nearly twice as high as the average across the US: 13.1%.
How does Vermont compare to its New England neighbors? While 4 of 5 New England states are doing worse than the US average, Vermont’s 23.8 % is still more than double Maine’s 11.4%, 8.0% higher than New Hampshire, 7.8% more than Mass., and 5.8% higher than Connecticut. The only other New England state in the top 10 for claims rate nationwide is Rhode Island, and R.I. sits below 20%.
Vermont’s rate of new COVID-19 cases has started to level off, which we can be thankful for. Unfortunately, our economy has suffered far more than most other states on the employment front.
David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.