New Hampshireâ€™s August unemployment rate was 2.7 percent. Employers from high-tech manufacturers to fast-food restaurants are flying â€śhelp wantedâ€ť signs. Waits for service are longer. Finding someone to do home repairs can be a full-time job. Everyone in the trades is flat out and booked far ahead.
The shortage of workers means existing companies canâ€™t expand and new employers canâ€™t move to New Hampshire. The labor shortage, economists warn, has become a drag on economic growth. The reasons are many but two are paramount - demographic trends and a critical shortage of affordable housing.
The state is the nationâ€™s second oldest. Retiring boomers are not being replaced in equal number by new workers. The construction industry alone lost 1.5 million workers during the last recession. There are fewer high school graduates, and they are avoiding jobs in the trades. Demographers estimate that the stateâ€™s high school population will drop by 27 percent over the next two decade
Graduates of New Hampshireâ€™s many colleges, both native born and out-of-staters, move away but often fail to return or are stymied by housing costs when they try to do so. Pay, in a state that still relies on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, has not kept pace with rents or home costs.
There is, as many have pointed out, a disconnect between the housing older owners have, big three- and four-bedroom homes, and the housing younger workers and their families want or can afford.
What can be done, or at least tried? Zoning laws, building codes and other impediments to affordable housing should be revisited. Unused city and state land could be sold at a discount to providers of workforce housing.
Whatâ€™s unlikely to change is the stateâ€™s reliance on property taxes and the federal governmentâ€™s reluctance to subsidize housing for the less well-off. The answer, for now, lies in local and regional efforts to address the shortage.