Vermont: Mixed grades

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Vermont got some good financial news and some bad financial news this week. While Green Mountain State residents are significantly better prepared to face the 2009 national recession-the worst since the Great Depression-they rank 49 in the nation's average annual pay category. The mixed news was revealed in a report released Monday by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a national economic nonprofit that receives some federal taxpayer funds for its activities.

Among the good news for Vermont: The state earned an "A" on CFED's 2009-2010 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard.

CFED's Assets & Opportunity Scorecard measures the financial security of families in the United States by looking beyond just income to the whole picture of building ownership and protecting against financial setbacks. The Scorecard ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia on 58 performance measures in the areas of financial assets and income, businesses and jobs, housing and homeownership, health care and education.

The state earned top 10 rankings in 20 different economic indicators, including first-place rankings in areas including minority business ownership, Head Start coverage, and four-year college degree attainment by race.

However, it was found that Vermont needs to improve significantly in several critical areas: the state ranks 49 in average annual pay, 48 in both average college debt and four-year college degree attainment by gender, 51 in women- owned business value, and 43 in minority-owned business value. By not addressing these low rankings, Vermont's economic security may be at risk in future years, according to the Scorecard.

The Scorecard notes that Vermont's policymakers must create opportunities to support the financial well-being of their constituents. To remove barriers to saving for very low-income households, the organization suggested that Vermont should eliminate asset limits in its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid programs, as it has for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Vermont, it said, should also make postsecondary education more affordable and encourage students to save by matching deposits in 529 college savings accounts.

The Scorecard found Vermont lacked in investing in entrepreneurs by expanding its microloan program so that funds can also be used to deliver essential technical assistance and training to microentrepreneurs, especially for women and minorities.

Top performers on the 2009-2010 Scorecard-those states that earned an overall "A" in performance measures-include Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

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