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A Theory About Why Vermonters Work So Hard

People in Vermont are busy.

  • Vermont has the second highest number of people working multiple jobs following South Dakota.
  • About 9 percent of Vermonters (30,000 people) hold more than one job.
  • That’s higher than the US average, with 5 percent holding more than one job.

But Vermonters aren’t just more likely to hold multiple jobs. We’re also more likely to volunteer, and we have a higher rate of entrepreneurship than many other states.

Hints That Vermonters Work For More Than Making Ends Meet

Surprisingly, while one-third of people work multiple jobs to earn extra income, they don’t necessarily need that income to survive. As pointed out by Art Woolf in the Burlington Free Press, only about a quarter of people work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

That said, it’s true that many Vermonters have to work multiple jobs. For example, they may need to combine two low wage jobs into one livable income. Or they’re patching work together between part-time seasonal engagements.

Vermont’s famously low unemployment rate of 3 percent easily beats the US unemployment rate of 4.5 percent. But that rate only counts people who have been out of work for 15 weeks or longer.

A broader measure of labor underutilization (called U-6) counts all unemployed people plus discouraged workers, workers who are not actively looking for work but would take a job if offered and those who are working part-time but would prefer to work full-time and cannot.

Just four other states have a lower U-6 rate than Vermont’s rate of 7.1 percent. The US average is 9.6 percent.

This means a higher number of Vermonters who want full-time work have it compared to 46 other states. And as noted, some Vermonters are even doubling up on work.

Vermonters aren’t just more likely to work multiple jobs – they’re also entrepreneurial.

Back in 2012 CNN ranked Vermont as the 2nd most entrepreneurial state in the US.

More recently, the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship ranked Vermont 6th for “Rate of New Entrepreneurs.” This ranking measures the percentage of adults who became entrepreneurs in a given month. (More to come on this study and others like it in a future article.)

This despite the fact that Vermont’s population is older than the US average, and despite the (incorrect) stereotype that younger people are more likely to start successful businesses.

Vermonters also volunteer more than the national average.

Vermont is ranked #8 for total volunteerism, significantly higher than the US average, and #1 for volunteer retention rate.

Why?

It’s not 100 percent clear why so many Vermonters work multiple jobs, start businesses, or volunteer more than the national average.

It could say something about the type of person who a) was born and stays in Vermont or b) chooses to move to Vermont and then has to find a way to make a living here.

It could say something about Vermont’s immigrants and refugees (a key source of the state’s population growth) who tend to be more likely than native populations to start new businesses.

Another hypothesis? Perhaps Vermonters take second jobs to fund their dream business or to start a non-profit they believe in.

Many of Vermont’s most successful businesses were founded and funded on the backs of day jobs. Regardless of areas where Vermont could do better, the state has an exceptionally strong record of business survival. And as Adam Grant noted in his book “Originals,” people who start jobs on the side rather than quit their day jobs are 33 percent less likely to fail.

There is so much more to explore here. What do you think drives Vermont’s obsession with work and starting businesses and volunteering? Share your theory, and we’ll publish it in a future post on AgendaVT.com.

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