By WILSON RINGMONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) â¿¿ Vermont's population decreased last year for the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century, according to U.S. Census figures, with more people leaving the state than moving in. The exodus is part of a broader trend in which the state's population growth rate has hovered just above zero for several years. While the fiscal 2012 population decline of 581 people was small, it was the first time since 1944 Vermont lost population, University of Vermont and economist Art Woolf said. Vermont, with a total population estimated at 626,592, still has more births than deaths. But those changes couldn't offset the 1,726 people who left the state in the year that ended June 30, the statistics show. The population decline is a challenge for the state's efforts to create good paying jobs. "We knew this was coming," said Vermont Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller, who first noticed the trend when the number of students in schools began to decline several years ago. "When you just looked at what was happening in the schools, clearly we were going to hit that point." More people have been moving out of Vermont than moving in has been a trend for at least a decade, but the 2012 figure was greater than the net number of people who left the state between 2000 and 2009, 1,124, the statistics showed. "The number itself is not that big of a deal. It's got a negative sign in front of it, which is why it's noticeable, but the difference between losing 500 people and gaining 500 people when you are talking about 620,000 people, it's a rounding error, really," said Woolf. "We need to recognize Vermont is not a very attractive place for people to move to. I think that first and foremost is what people need to come to grips with. Most people think Vermont is such a wonderful place."