- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - New U.S. Census data released Thursday shows a rise in the number of Vermonters living in poverty and a drop in the state’s median household income.

About 3,000 more people in Vermont - for a total of 74,058 - were living below the poverty level in 2013, compared to 71,084 in 2012. The state’s poor amounted to 12.3 percent of its population. Nationally, 15.8 percent were living in poverty last year.

The census survey showed Vermont’s median household income dropped 2 percent from $53,677 in 2012 to $52,578 in 2013. The median income in the United States rose from $51,915 in 2012 to $52,250 in 2013.

Meanwhile, community action agencies around the state said they are seeing a rise in demand for food, housing and other services.

“Everything is skyrocketing,” said Kathy Metras, deputy director of program services for Northeast Kingdom Community Action in Newport. “People are struggling.” Demand for food and housing continue to go up, she said. “It just seems to be getting worse and worse,” she said.

The use of emergency food supplies and demand for housing also have increased in Rutland, said Pam Shambo, development specialist for BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont.

“Probably in the last year, we’ve seen a steady increase in the food shelf as to where we’re seeing folks who never thought they would use a food shelf before,” she said.

While Vermont’s poverty rate rose and median income fell, neighboring New Hampshire saw a 1.3 percent decline from about 128,500 people in poverty in 2012 to roughly 111,500 last year, the second-sharpest drop in the nation, the census survey showed. Wyoming had the biggest drop at 1.7 percent.

New Hampshire’s median income rose slightly from $64,187 in 2012 to $64,230 last year.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is seeking re-election, said Vermont has had its share of good news in the country’s slow economic recovery from the recession including having the second fastest personal income growth in the first quarter of 2014, up 1.4 percent. But he said it also has its challenges.

“There is no doubt that too many Vermonters like many others around the country continue to struggle, as the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. That’s why job growth continues to be my top priority,” he said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne said the numbers show economic conditions are not getting better in Vermont, despite what Shumlin says.

“In a state where it seems like everyone has to have two or three jobs to make ends meet, people just can’t seem to get ahead,” he said. “And, yet, our state government continues to increase spending, asking for more and more from its citizens. The budget growth continues to grow further out of line with revenues, which once again came in below forecast last month. As a state, we are spending more than we earn, and Vermonters know that is no way to run a state or a household.”

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