Vermont: The Per Capita Capital


When it comes to per capita rankings, the winner is usually Vermont.

Vermont is number one in most breweries per capita, most cheese makers per capita, most colleges per capita, most charities per capita and so much more. An long, but likely incomplete list is at the bottom of this story.

Per capita is the number of something in relation to the population.

“If you want to rank the different states,” explains University of Vermont economics professor Art Woolf, “you don’t just look at totals because Vermont would always look really low because we have so few people. So, the common way to compare states is to adjust for state sizes. Population is a good measure.”

Vermont has about 626,000 people and 99 farmer’s markets. That’s 15.8 for every 100K Vermonters. Another per capita win for VT. Vermont’s twin state, New Hampshire, has about the same number of markets (96) but twice the population.

“You have to look at the numbers you’re looking at. And say is this biased by just the small size of the state?” says Woolf.

That bias can skew some important numbers.

In 2015, there has been zero deadly officer involved shootings in the state until one in the final week of the year. Vermont moved from 50th per capita to 45th with just one incident.

Two deaths would’ve put Vermont at 30th, six would’ve made Vermont number one in police shooting deaths per capita.

“So, you have to be very careful when you’re dealing with a very small state like Vermont.” continued Woolf. “It’s usually not as big of an issue in larger states. But in states with less than a million or 2 million people, then you have to be careful.”

Do per capita numbers hold up? And what are they good for?

“Because we’re so small, we percolate up to the top in a lot of rankings.” said Woolf. “It gives you some PR value, and I think people use that.”

“Well, it’s bragging rights for one thing.” said Laura Peterson with the Vermont Tourism Department.  “It does show what’s important to us as a state. And we use those in our brochures to illustrate what’s important to Vermont and what makes us special.”

According to the Brewers’ Association, Vermont has 40 craft breweries (24th overall) and California has 431 (1st overall).

“Vermont could never compete with a state like California with its huge population in terms of being number one.” said Peterson. “But in terms of how many things per capita, per person or per 100,000 people we shine.”

California drops to 20th when ranked per capita. Vermont leads the nation with 8.6 craft breweries per 100,000 adults age 21 and up.

Woolf says all of these numbers deserve a closer look, if they even mean anything at all.

“I mean, the number of colleges is almost a meaningless statistic.” Woolf says. “We have so few people, we have relatively a large number of colleges but so what?”

But these numbers really do mean something to those involved.

“I love sharing that statistic [most libraries per capita] with other librarians from around the country.” said Vermont State Librarian Martha Reid. “But I think that the reason we have these many libraries per capita is just because Vermont is local community based. We love that local control.”

“It really is a real number [most cheese makers per capita].” VT Farmstead Cheese Co. COO Kent Underwood said. “You go to the award ceremonies, the American cheese society, and Vermont cheese makers are taking home a very high percentage of the awards. So, that’s a testament to the quality that’s being produced by the passionate people make the cheese in the state.”

Though it’ll admit Vermont’s small population helps, the Vermont Tourism Department will use it all.

“We use the things that hit the buttons of people who are interested in coming to Vermont.” said Peterson. “That includes great food, great beer, outdoor activities, our culture, our arts and our history.”

A list with references of Vermont’s #1 per capita rankings:

Most Pediatricians per capita

Most Child Centers per capita

Lowest % of Student-Loan Borrowers in Past-Due or Default Status

Highest % of Student-Loan Borrowers Aged 50+

Lowest Gender Pay Gap (women’s earnings as a % of men’s)

Lowest Pupil to Teacher ratio

Highest Public School Spending per student

Most Museums per capita

Most Breweries per capita (8.6 per 100K 21+ adults)

Most Peace Corps Volunteers per capita

Most Colleges per capita

Most Planned Parenthood locations per capita

Most Artisanal Cheesemakers per capita

Most Local and Organic Farms, CSAs and Farmers Markets

Most Olympians Produced per capita (13 winter Olympians in 2014

Most Books/Periodicals Available at Libraries per capita
Most Libraries per capita

Most Charities per capita

Lost Incarceration Rate

Most Preterm Births per capita

Least Violent Crimes per capita

Most Uterine Cancer Incidences per capita

Highest Public High School Graduation rate

Several categories of drug use (2013):

As of Spring 2011
    Most writers/authors
    Most killed in Iraq War
    Most patents
    Fewest sworn police
    Most working 2 jobs
    Most maple trees
    Most farm digesters
    Most unpaved roads
    Most cooked oatmeal cereal consumed
    Most tennis courts
    Most use of federal tax credits to restore old buildings

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