Only a mile expanse across the Connecticut River separatesLebanon, N.H., from White River Junction of Bernie Sanders ‘sdeep-blue Vermont.
Bustling stores line the New Hampshire shore where there is nosales or income tax. About the only notable highlights on thedesolate Vermont side are a courthouse and railroad.
Itâ€™s a grim but telling microcosm ofVermont’s economic climate, where young people are leavingfor the higher-paying jobs that fled the Green Mountain State yearsago. â€œEverybody here believes high schoolgraduation means your kid is about to leave,â€ JohnMcClaughry, longtime Vermont resident and vice president of theright-leaning think tank Ethan Allen Institute, told The DailyCaller News Foundation.
â€œWeâ€™re the second-oldeststate by median age, just because our young people are seekingopportunity somewhere else,” heÂ added.
Sanders has been a major political power in Vermont for morethan three decades. His political career began as Burlington,Vermontâ€™s mayor in the 1980s. Then he served asthe state’s lone congressman in the 1990s and early2000s.
The self-identified independent socialist, who is now seekingthe 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, was elected to theSenate in the Democrats’ 2006 sweep into power in both housesof Congress.Â â€œIt has helped to pushthe whole culture to the left,â€ McClaughry said.
At first glance, Vermont’s economy looksgood.Â The September unemployment rate ofÂ 3.7 percentÂ is among thenation’s lowest, while the median household income is about$1,000 above the national average at $54,000.
But that doesnâ€™t tell the full story.
Vermontâ€™s homogenous populationâ€” itâ€™s 95 percent whiteâ€” is probably the biggest factor in its lowunemployment rate, University of Vermont Economist Art Woolf toldTheDCNF, and is why the state tends to do well in studies comparingstatesâ€™ incomeinequality,Â Sanders’ top issue.
Even so, legions of Vermonters are giving up looking for work,Woolf said.
Private-sector employment shrunk 1.2 percent from 2000 to 2011,while government employment grew 7.5 percent, according to datafrom the Small Business Administration.
White-collar jobs, the kind created byÂ corporations Sanders warns against, neverconsider locating in Vermont or have already moved, McClaughrysaid.
C&S Wholesale Grocers, once the largest locally basedcompany in Vermont and one of the largest wholesale grocers in thecountry, moved its headquarters and 400 jobs 30 miles away to King,N.H, in 2009. The companyâ€™s CEO cited NewHampshireâ€™s lower corporate taxes, lack of apersonal income tax, and more available land.
â€œNow there was a time when you were running acompany you had to look out the window and watch theworkers,â€ McClaughry said. â€œWithmodern technology, thatâ€™s not so anymore.â€
The state’s costly regulatory climate and high taxeshave landed it in 49th or 50th place every yearsince 2008 in the American Legislative Exchange Council’sannual state economic outlook rankings.
â€œOur regulatory system sets up really highbarriers to any kind of new economic growth,â€McClaughry said. “The remedy has always been under theDemocrats that if you have a worthy (eco-friendly) project,weâ€™ll give you all kinds of incentives to payfor the cost of meeting the ridiculousrequirements.â€
Vermont’s 8.95 percent state income tax rate is theseventh highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.The state’s projected 2.7 percent growth rate ties it withseven other states as the fifth-slowest, according tousgovernmentspending.com.
Vermont’s liberal policies, small size, homogenousdemographics and low birth rates make it more like a small Europeancountry than a state sometimes, Woolf said.
Sanders often points to Denmark as the model for America’sfuture. It’s already on display in Vermont.
â€œWe have a kind of an ethos of the role ofgovernment,” Woolf said. “We believe in kind of asocial welfare government, because we do have high taxes and highspending.”
Vermont’s isolated rural beauty is attractiveâ€” but it comes at a price.
â€˜Thereâ€™s certainly anappeal, but youâ€™ve got to figure out howyouâ€™re going to support yourself,â€McClaughry said.