NH Public Policy
New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies

AP/WMUR: New Hampshire economy ends 2016 strong, but challenges ahead

December 27, 2016

Associated Press, Kathleen Ronayne / WMUR, Mike Cronin

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire is closing out 2016 with the nation's lowest unemployment rate, wages that are on the rise and strong real estate sales.

Combined, these factors show the state's economy is strong heading into 2017. The state's gross domestic product growth rate of 2.9 percent is among the highest in the nation, according to the most recently available federal data.

"Right now the state is in very good shape, probably the best shape it's been in economically in 10 years," said Russ Thibeault, president of Applied Economic Research in Laconia.

Still, there are challenges. Businesses say the low unemployment rate is making it hard to find skilled workers for open jobs. The state's modest in-migration also may make it hard for the state to sustain its growth.

"Without more people, the economy just can't grow anymore," said Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies.

New Hampshire's unemployment rate sat at 2.7 percent in November, tying with South Dakota for the lowest in the nation. That compares to 4.6 percent unemployment nationally.

A low unemployment rate increases competition for workers, which can in turn raise wages, Thibeult said. It also makes it easier for people seeking jobs to find one, because there is less competition.

On the flip side, New Hampshire businesses say it's hard to find skilled workers, particularly in fields such as advanced manufacturing. The state doesn't keep data on job vacancies, so it's hard to know how many positions are unfilled. But a lack of available workers could stop businesses from expanding.

"Almost anywhere you turn in the economy they are dealing with a shortage of skilled workers," said David Juvet, senior vice president of the Business and Industry Association.

New Hampshire's housing market is seeing an uptick in sales and home prices, according to recent data from the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

November data show closed sales on single family homes went up 18.4 percent over the past year. The median sale prices for single family homes went up 5.9 percent, to $248,750, in the same period. Inventory of available homes has fallen quickly, making it more of a sellers' than a buyers' market.

Mortgage interest rates remain low but have finally started to rise, which adds uncertainty to the housing market heading into 2017, Thibeault said.

Wages in New Hampshire also are climbing, offering another indicator of economic strength. On average, they're up 4 to 5 percent, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The median wage in New Hampshire is roughly $24 an hour, but that can vary sharply based on where someone lives. In the Lebanon-Hanover area, for example, the median wage hits almost $28 an hour. But over in Conway and Wolfeboro, an area dominated more by tourism and retail jobs, the median wage is closer to $19, according to a November report by the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.

Roughly 734,000 workers were employed in New Hampshire as of November.

Leisure and hospitality jobs increased by 6 percent since last year, the highest increase, according to federal data.

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