(Opinion) NH’s future: A retirement home staffed by robots?

Projections show a dire need for more young families in the state

According to projections from the NH Bureau of Business and Economic Affairs, we are becoming the region’s retirement home. But given BEA’s projections for a diminishing workforce, that home will need to be staffed by robots.

Strong economies rely on a ready workforce and a growing population of consumers. Attracting workers ages 20-64, and their families, is key to a strong business climate. Consumer spending by households led by this age group is higher than retirees’.

New Hampshire’s population has already aged far more than the U.S. nationwide. The BEA projects the trend will continue over the next two decades. By 2040, BEA expects New Hampshire to have as many seniors over 65 as young workers ages 20 to 44. The number of older working people, ages 45 to 64, is expected to drop precipitously as the boomer generation finishes retiring. The BEA projects that, meanwhile, the state’s decreasing population of children will stabilize and even grow slightly.

BEA has chosen to believe that the state will retain and attract enough women in the high-fertility ages of 20 to 44 to stop the downward trend in New Hampshire’s birth rate. And that those women will bear children. However, New Hampshire has the second lowest fertility rate in the nation.

According to 2021 census estimates, New Hampshire’s population of children dropped by another 2,500 instead of beginning to stabilize. Recent real estate sales have not brought an influx of youngsters.

Competition for houses is fierce. Nearly a third of housing sales were in cash last year, as reported here by NHBR. Cash purchasers typically are older couples who have sold a house elsewhere. With average prices still above $400,000 and interest rates rising, first-time buyers are mostly shut out of the market. College debt and economic uncertainty make young couples reluctant to start families, even if they can move here.

As one agent relates: “Of the 40 residences I’ve sold over the last year and a half, only two have been to families with children … Most buyers are over 50. The few young couples looking want five acres for their dog.”

Rents are rising, too. These are driven by increased property taxes and utilities. Also, legislative rent control proposals led some landlords to raise rents pre-emptively, just in case.

The governor’s planned phase-out of the interest and dividends tax also seems likely to increase the influx of affluent retirees rather than working folks with children. The governor also proposed to remove regulations that reduce competition for the state’s service firms. Given that we are surrounded by higher wage states, it is unclear how this will attract service providers to move into the state.

To attract working families with children, New Hampshire needs to increase its housing supply, offer attractive wages, improve child care and stop destroying what used to be one of the top educational systems in the nation.

Jeanne Dietsch of Peterborough, a former senator who served on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is founder of Granite State Matters.

Categories: Opinion