By KEVIN O'CONNOR, Times Argus Staff Writer
Long before last autumn's financial fall, the Council on the Future of Vermont found stunning agreement on residents' top concern: the economy.
The only thing more surprising: People's worry over a perceived lack of state fiscal planning. More than 80 percent of those surveyed in the winter, spring and summer of 2008 pointed to Vermont's cost of living - the ninth most expensive in the country - as its No. 1 challenge.
Since then, the squeeze has only grown tighter. Although the state's average household income has risen in the last two decades and now nears the national mean, many workers' pay hasn't kept up with inflation - in part, the council found, because of the high price of housing, health care, energy, transportation and food.
Increasing costs, in turn, are decreasing confidence.
“Despite or perhaps because of a strong feeling of commitment to the state, many Vermonters from across the geographic and demographic spectrum express concern and anxiety about the future of Vermont, particularly its long-term economic health,” the nonprofit, nonpartisan study group reports. “This sense of unease is fueled in part by the perceived lack of a comprehensive economic vision for the future.”