Just How Well Is New Hampshire's Economy Doing?

Sep 13, 2017

Credit Bryan Marble/Flickr

The economic headlines in recent months have been overwhelmingly positive, both in New Hampshire and nationally.

The stock market is up, median household income is reaching record levels, and unemployment is low. NHPR’s Todd Bookman, who covers business and the economy, joined All Things Considered Host Peter Biello to dive deeper into the numbers, and explore what the data means for working families in the state.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Let’s start with exactly how well the state’s economy doing....

Take, for example, a top-line figure like the unemployment rate. The rate has been below 3% for 20 consecutive months now, one of the lowest in the nation. And it’s a figure that holds across the state: in Coos County, the unemployment rate is 3.1%, in Cheshire it's 2.6%, and in Rockingham it is 2.7%.

Economists often call this ‘full employment.’ In theory, everyone in the state who wants a job, has one. That’s undeniably good news.

Full employment...that’s certainly worth patting ourselves on the back over. But are these good jobs? Can you support a household on them?

That’s a really important question. The state has jobs, but are they quality jobs? Some research from the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute sheds light on this. Since the recession, the industries that have seen the most job growth are health care, administration and service jobs like hotel and restaurant work.

Now, there are definitely good careers within those sectors, but many of these jobs are on the lower end of the wage scale, such as in food service and, say, licensed nursing assistants. But the post-recession positions that haven’t returned are largely concentrated in the construction and manufacturing trades. Those positions, on average, pay more than $1,000 per week: a good solid, middle class salary.

So this mix of jobs isn’t what it was, and it doesn’t favor a thriving middle class?

Exactly. One interesting point here is that while New Hampshire has one of the country’s best educated workforces, a lot of white collar jobs are empty right now. Tech firms can’t find the right job candidates. And, even in manufacturing, business owners say they can’t find enough workers. It’s a constant struggle to recruit people who have the skills to work on a modern assembly line. These are good paying jobs, and when they go unfilled, it starts to drag down the economy.

But there are also vacancies everywhere…‘Now Hiring’ signs up outside of fast food restaurants. And, as we’ve found out this month, schools can’t find enough school bus drivers.

Yeah, it’s almost as if we are running out of people. Overall, the state’s population grew by one-third of one percent last year. That’s a little less than 5,000 people. Compare that to the 1980s and 90s, when the state was adding 10,000--sometimes 15,000--residents a year.

On top of that, our demographics continue to skew much older than the national average. Most economists agree that for the state to see stronger sustained economic growth, the state will need to attract younger residents. That’s not just an economic issue...it's also a branding issue. Cities and towns need to figure out how to sell themselves as a good place to live and work.