Vermont's Economic Well-Being Double the National Average
Release Date: 09-25-2003
Burlington’s much talked about quality of life seems to place it on a new “top ten” list every week. Now there’s quantitative data to support the idea that life is better in Vermont’s largest city – as well as in the Green Mountain State itself.
According to a comprehensive measure of economic and social welfare called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) – which takes into account factors like income distribution, the cost of crime, the loss of leisure time, and the erosion of non-renewable resources – Burlington, Chittenden County, and Vermont scored approximately double the national average in the year 2000.
Tipping the scales for the city, region, and state was a much better environmental performance than the nation had overall. “Traditional measures of economic progress like the Gross Domestic Product don’t tell the whole story,” said Robert Costanza, director of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, which performed the GPI analyses in collaboration with students in a class Costanza and Jon Erickson taught at UVM.
“Many things that contribute to a growing GDP, for instance, clearly don’t benefit society,” he said. “An oil spill increases GDP, because people are paid to clean it up, but it detracts from our well being.” In addition, Costanza said, GDP leaves out many things that do enhance welfare but are not part of the market economy – the unpaid work of mothers or fathers who stay home to care for their children, for example.
Costanza and his students prepared the GPI report for the Burlington Legacy Project, which co-sponsored it along with the Champlain Initiative. The Legacy Project has involved thousands of residents throughout Burlington in planning for the economic, environmental and social health of the city over the next 30 years.
“Our goal is to make Burlington a livable city for all our residents,” said Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle. “It’s telling that our GPI score was high in this initial analysis, but it’s more important that we now have a reliable instrument to measure our progress over time in becoming a sustainable city.”
The Champlain Initiative works with residents across the county to implement a broad vision of what a “healthy community” should be. “We are excited about the work being done to demonstrate the interconnectedness between economic, social and environmental factors, “ said Beth Kuhn, Champlain Initiative director. “We look forward to an ongoing partnership with UVM and Legacy to refine and advance this work.”
While GPI analyses of national economies are common, they have never before been performed at the regional and state level, Costanza said. “States and communities need better economic indicators of economic progress, just like nations do,” said Costanza. “Part of our goal was to show that the model works at a smaller scale,” he said.
26 categories of data
The GPI was developed by the Oakland-based group Redefining Progress, http://www.rprogress.org, Costanza said, to provide a more comprehensive picture of economic welfare, one that adjusts economic activity for social and environmental factors. It is a version of the Index of Sustainable Economics Welfare (ISEW) developed by Herman Daly and John Cobb in 1989.
The GPI is derived by collecting data in 26 separate categories, including income, adjusted by the way it is distributed in the community; the estimated value of household and volunteer work; the benefit and costs of highway systems; the cost of water, air, and noise pollution; the estimated cost of societal negatives like crime, divorce, and diminished leisure time; and the cost of depleted natural resources like wetlands and forests.
Costanza and his group put the data in per capita terms so they could compare local, state, and national scores. Burlington’s, Chittenden County’s, and Vermont’s per capita GPI scores were, respectively, $15,975, $18,339, and $17,887, compared with the national per capita score of $8,692.