You are currently viewing Kevin Chu: The People Paradox – not enough workers, not enough housing

Kevin Chu: The People Paradox – not enough workers, not enough housing

This commentary is from Kevin Chu of South Burlington, executive director of the Vermont Futures Project.

Like Vermont, we came together, regardless of political party, on the top threats facing our state. From the Statehouse to the kitchen table, Vermonters agree that something has to be done to solve the labor and housing crisis.

Data released in recent months quickly became public knowledge: 26,000 open jobs and 2.3% unemployment, meaning that even if every unemployed person in Vermont found a job in the state, there would still be more than 18 000 open jobs.

Also, workers need more housing options so that as we bring more people into the workforce, we don’t exacerbate the problems of our tight housing market.

It looks like a paradox of people with no right answer.

Just as we agreed to identify the problems, we must also collectively choose population growth as the solution and work to increase the carrying capacity. Otherwise, we risk the consequences of reduced economic productivity.

We need more people, especially young people and people from diverse backgrounds, to create an economically secure, sustainable, and equitable future for Vermont.

Why? Because time only works one way. Our population and our homes are aging at an alarming rate. In order to support the values ​​we espouse as a state and achieve the Wellness Outcomes for Vermonters, or Governor’s Strategic Plan, Vermont must embrace growth and change. Our natural population evolution (births vs. deaths) has been trending downward for decades.

The largest age cohort in Vermont is 55-64. Labor shortages will only worsen with a wave of baby boomer retirements over the next decade. Pensions will not relieve the housing market either. With the growing trend of “aging in place” and the lack of new homes being built, the housing market is unlikely to become more affordable without many more homes being built.

Setting a goal to increase our population and build more homes may seem to conflict with the values ​​of environmental sustainability that are part of Vermont’s ethos. However, we exist as part of a global system; people and pollutants move. A person in need of housing who cannot find anything suitable in Vermont does not simply disappear; they find a home elsewhere.

Let’s take the lead in smart growth and incorporate sustainable practices into new developments. Vermont has passed a Global Warming Solutions Act and has a Climate Action Plan. If we are sincere in our desire to have an impact on a global scale, we should invite more people to come live here and participate in the solutions we are building.

Vermont’s climate action plan states that “Vermont should prioritize helping those who will be most affected by climate change.” Those most affected do not currently live in Vermont. They are vulnerable populations living in areas that will soon become uninhabitable due to drought, wildfires, floods and other conditions exacerbated by climate change.

Displaced climate refugees will be forced to leave their homes in search of a new place to settle. If Vermont truly believes in helping those most affected by climate change, then we should proactively prepare to make our state a viable place to relocate.

There may already be climate migrants moving to Vermont with climate change in mind, but current economic conditions mean they are mostly wealthy and privileged, coming here by choice with the resources to compete in a scarce housing market.

This increases the burden for people already living in Vermont. Without embracing population growth and intentionally building capacity for it, Vermont will become more stratified and increasingly inaccessible to low- and middle-income families who want to call this state home.

Most open jobs in Vermont are entry-level positions and do not require a college degree. These working families are the lifeline of our economy. Our population growth must be done equitably to support a robust economy and resilient communities where opportunities exist across the socio-economic spectrum.

If our long-term goals are to strengthen the economy and contribute to climate solutions, planned and sustainable population growth via immigration may be the answer.

Paradox solved.

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Tags: housing crisis, immigration, Kevin Chu, People Paradox, Vermont Futures Project, labor crisis

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