Facts about New Hampshire shape the state’s future

At an interesting presentation to the StayWorkPlay New Hampshire advisory board recently, Steve Norton, head of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, reviewed how New Hampshire is changing and where its population resides.As in the past, the central corridor in New Hampshire, the Merrimack Valley, is the most intensely populated, and the southeast portion of the state the fastest-growing region. In the northern counties, the highest out-migration is found with the population of Coos County continuously declining.We are becoming more suburban and less urban — a characteristic that New Hampshire may not share with the rest of the country. Indeed, Nashua and Portsmouth have been losing population.New Hampshire is losing children as a percentage of the population. This is for two reasons. New Hampshirites are not having as many children as in previous generations, and the existing children are growing older and are no longer children!This has policy ramifications for the future, both in the fact that the marginal cost of education per child is going up if the education infrastructure is to be maintained, and there will be a fight over education funding among school districts if the total number of children declines. What that means for education budgets, state aid, structure and delivery systems will be interesting to see, especially in light of the changes in technology affecting education.The higher-income regions are in the southern part of the state. Previously, our competitive advantage was because of relatively low housing costs and lower-income employees. This may no longer be the case.New Hampshire’s median age is 41, making us the third or fourth oldest state in the country, but we are about in the middle as to the percent of our population over age 65, although the northern and western parts have a median age over 50 and a disproportionately large number of people over 65. Our cities are aging as well.The largest demographic segment of the population in New Hampshire, as in the country, is the so-called “baby boomers.” This will continue for approximately 20 years and will shape a lot of the policy decisions and influences in New Hampshire.*****Because of all of these demographic facts, labor force demands will be different in the future because of what the populations need. Shortly, the growth of the population in the 75-to-79-year-old bracket will be large, and because people are living longer and are more active, people in those age groups will be doing what people 60 to 65 did not so long ago. This will require a need to change our thinking about public policy as to people in those age groups and what we expect of them, and what they can expect of government.Traditionally, New Hampshire has lost people to Florida and gained people from Massachusetts and that has been true since the 1970s. From 1960 to 1990, the population of the state almost doubled which accounted for our significant economic growth. This migration pattern may have changed in the recession, and that in turn has had a negative effect on the economy.New Hampshire always has imported well-educated people, but since we have had four years of net out-migration, we have had a concomitant “brain-drain.” Our vibrant in-migration kept the state younger because of the number of 30-to-39-year-olds with children who moved here. The stalling of the migration pattern has contributed to the age increase.Issues that come because of the fundamental demographic changes in New Hampshire include how we take advantage of the over 65-year-olds among us. Also, how do we keep New Hampshire attractive for 30-to-39-year-olds so they want to come here? Things that traditionally attract people in those age groups are the infrastructure, transportation, educational opportunity and, of course, good jobs that allow them the income to take advantage of the other characteristics.Despite the myths about the “old Yankees,” New Hampshire is the fifth or sixth most “non-native state.” What this means, largely, is that people here who participate in our institutions and politics do not come here with New Hampshire traditions and have to “make them up.”Against all this information is the anomaly that there are a lot of corporations in New Hampshire with high-paying jobs who cannot fill them because we do not seem to be graduating people into the workforce who have the skills needed, especially in engineering and technology. Also, there appears to be a need to connect the available jobs with the graduates and with the high schools sending students to college and educating them there.As people run around New Hampshire and the United States talking about what they perceive to be “important issues to the voters,” they need a dose of facts to go with their ideology if policy is to be developed to fit what is actually going on, as opposed to a test of “ideological purity.”Voters need to know the facts as they judge candidates, just as candidates need to discuss real issues plus real ramifications, if they are to solve the problems that we face and are going to face. Let us hope both groups are up to the challenge!Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.