#2: Income Inequality in Vermont

For an issue that I want to research, I’ve chosen income inequality. Income inequality is a troubling issue facing Vermont today. Like much of America, Vermont is being split into two economic classes as the middle class disappears. High numbers of Vermonters are still struggling to pay their bills and are impoverished. This is an important issue that must be addressed.

Vermont’s economy is increasing, but studies show that most of this is going to the rich, while the poor aren’t benefiting nearly as much. According to the Vermont Digger, the top 5% of Vermont has seen a 42% increase in income since 2006, while the bottom 20% has only seen a 6% increase in that same time span. the rich are getting a disproportionate amount of money in Vermont, and this is being supported by federal policy. The recent federal tax cut has only done more to worsen this issue. The tax cuts severely benefited the wealthy and corporations. Vermont’s access to affordable child care is decreasing, and the number of families receiving food stamps remains above pre-recession levels. Vermont was one of only 4 US states to have poverty increase in 2016. Its rate is at 11.9 percent, at had significant increases while incomes only increased a small amount.

In Vermont, it’s very difficult to escape poverty and the poverty cycle. My mother works as an eldercare clinician, and many people she works with live in poverty. Many people work 2 or even 3 different jobs, and still must choose between expenses they have to pay. The American Dream used to be no matter where you came from or were in life, you could rise up and be whoever you wanted to be if you worked hard. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Like I said, people need to work multiple jobs just to support their families and still use food stamps.

As a student, I see the effects that poverty has on kids. There are so many different ways being poor affects you. Living in Chittenden County, which is a very wealthy county in Vermont, most of the kids come from middle or higher-class families. Kids have this have  more opportunities and benefits. Many times kids can’t afford sports equipment and they can’t play on sports teams. In this day and age, nearly everyone has a phone, but they are expensive and some families can’t afford for their kids to have one. Being at school, I know how important these are not only for use in the classroom but also socially, being able to interact with your peers online. Not having one is a handicap in countless ways.

I also see that often times kids that don’t have financial security at home do worse in school. From kindergarten, and even before that, low-income kids have a number of factors that cause them to do worse in school. Studies show they are far less likely to:

  • Have 10+ books at home
  • Have their mom read to them 3+ times per week
  • Eat with their mom and dad daily
  • Leave the house 4+ times per week
  • See their father daily
  • Have a musical instrument at home
  • Take special lessons and do extracurricular activities

Low-income kids are also more likely to eat unhealthy foods. Their parents can’t afford healthy food, a luxury that higher-class kids have. This causes less wealthy kids to have higher obesity rates, not only living with their parents but all throughout their lives. Obesity is a very serious problem, and it results in numerous other health problems. It decreases life span, increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more. These are serious handicaps because many low-income people can’t afford proper health care and can’t afford to take time off from their jobs. Taking time off from low-wage jobs rarely is paid and is a risk of losing your job entirely. These people can’t afford to lose the paycheck and possibly their job, which makes health problems to be a serious dilemma. Like I said, my mother is a eldercare clinician, and many of her clients are obese, and many of their adult children are obese because of how hard it is to escape the poverty cycle.

All these factors cause it to be so hard to break out of the poverty cycle. In today’s economy, to get good jobs almost always requires a college education. College is very expensive and requires good grades to get into. Like I said earlier, since poor kids are less likely to do well in school they are less likely to get accepted into colleges. Even if they do, they receive almost no financial aid from their parents which in turn results in massive student loans. As a result of many low-income kids not being able to graduate from college, they are unable to get a good job and in turn are unable to escape the poverty cycle.

What I know:

  • The gap between the rich and the poor is growing and is at one of the highest rates in American history.
  • Poorer kids are more susceptible to a variety of different problems.
  • Federal policies and tax cuts only support income inequality.
  • Kids who are born into the poverty cycle have a harder time now then ever before to escape it.
  • Vermont has a big issue with poverty and income inequality.
  • Much of the wealth in Vermont is centered in Chittenden County, and many other places are poorer.

Questions I have:

  • Are poor people more likely to fall into drugs? If so, why?
  • What places in Vermont suffer the most from income inequality?
  • What policies can the government make to stop this problem?
  • What can I do as a student to stop this problem?
  • What can we do to spread out the wealth of America and Vermont better?
  • How can we make it easier for lower-income kids to graduate from college and get a good education?

 

Finn Wormser
My name is Finn Wormser and I'm from Shelburne. I'm a ninth grader from CVU High School. This is my first time doing the program, but I'm familiar with it through friends and my brother. I love playing sports and watching sports. I play volleyball, basketball, and am going to start ultimate frisbee in the spring. I play the bass and my brother, dad and I like to pretend we're a band. I am very excited to start What's The Story and to learn about a social issue in Vermont.

3 Responses to “#2: Income Inequality in Vermont

  • Finn, I’m impressed by your thoughtful observations and questions you raise about the issue of income inequality here in VT!

    I wonder what are the specific factors that are causing poverty levels to rise more here in VT than other places. Often, I here people remark about the high cost of property taxes and the fact that VT has one of the oldest populations demographically. How, if at all, do these things play into the increasing poverty of Vermonters?

    One of the things that really stood out for me was the connection you make between poverty and obesity and other health issues. In a state that prides itself on local, healthy food, this seems like something we should be able to address. Yet everyday in the school where I teach, I see how our less wealthy students rely the school provided lunch (PB&J or pizza), while other wealthier students generally come in with home-cooked food. Your points about how income inequality also is linked to limited access to technology, extracurriculars, and college — and potential for drug abuse are also powerful. When thinking about such a far-reaching issue, what aspect do you feel you have the most passion for exploring? Are you hoping to dig into solutions for income inequality as a whole (which may be beyond the scope of a yearlong project), or is there one facet of how income equality affects that lives of people that you could seek to highlight and propose solutions for?

  • Finn,
    I’m really glad that you decided to pursue this topic, I agree that its a huge issue not just in Vermont but the USA as a nation. I found it so cool how much information you had on this topic, that made reading this much better because I felt as if I was really learning and benefiting. I’m interested in how others view this because I personally don’t worry about this but I am sure my parents do and I should probably be more aware of it. I feel that in general students don’t worry about income and things that could affect them in the future so its so cool that you are so passionate about this at such a young age.
    Anna

  • This is such an important issue! I can’t wait to see where you go with it.

    Your initial research is so interesting. I wonder whether you might want to look at the intersection between poverty and another issue such as health or education. If so, you could formulate your inquiry along the lines of “How does poverty in Vermont impact ___?” This is just one possible format.

    One source I’d recommend to supplement your initial research is the Brave Little State podcast’s episode on how Vermonters make ends meet. It’s also a good example of fact-filled storytelling. Feel free to check it out.

    http://digital.vpr.net/post/vermont-hustle-what-its-work-3-jobs#stream/0

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