New Hampshire Employment Security (NHES) recently released an analysis of various economic indicators to evaluate the current health of New Hampshire’s economy. The analysis, 2014 in Review: Recovery, concludes that the Granite State in many respects has fully recovered “what was lost during the Great Recession.” However, while many of the indicators signal that the economy is back to normal, some, such as which industries are hiring and the duration of unemployment, suggest that some workers have yet to see the benefits of the recovery.
In assessing the health of any economy, most researchers begin with measures of employment. For instance, two of the most closely watched national economic reports are the payroll and household employment surveys released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) each month. Thus, NHES begins with an analysis of the household employment survey and finds that both the number of employed and unemployed New Hampshire residents is very close to where they were before the Great Recession began. As shown in the chart below, the household survey reveals that the number of employed New Hampshire residents in December 2014 was 711,658, virtually back to its December 2007 level, when the Great Recession began. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed residents at the end of last calendar year was 29,613. Though still slightly elevated from its pre-recession level of 26,048, the number of Granite Staters without a job and wanting one is at its lowest in six years. (Since NHES issued this report before completing their annual “benchmarking” process, NHFPI used the most up-to-date figures as of March 6, instead of the numbers listed in the report. The differences between the two are small and do not alter the conclusions made by the NHES.)
Looking at the labor market in a different way, the payroll survey (which measures how many jobs there are in New Hampshire rather than how many residents are employed) validates that a full recovery has taken place. As of December 2014, New Hampshire nonfarm entities employed roughly 653,000 people, 2,500 more than seven years ago. Nevertheless, while the state has clawed back all the jobs lost during the recession, the jobs added during the recovery are not the same ones that vanished.
One possible consequence of an improved economy is that for the first time in eight years, New Hampshire experienced positive net domestic migration (the sum of persons moving into and out of New Hampshire, excluding international migration). As the NHES analysis highlights, between July 1, 2013 and July 1, 2014, the Census Bureau estimates that the state gained 1,117 domestic migrants. This development was the main factor behind the state witnessing its strongest population growth in seven years, albeit at a modest 0.3 percent.
While the New Hampshire economy has recovered its previous peak level of employment, the quality of such jobs leaves something to be desired. The industries that have done most of the hiring (see table below) pay slightly above-average to below-average wages, whereas most of the jobs lost and not recovered are in sectors that offer above-average pay. For example, relative to December 2007, the manufacturing industry, which pays about 50 percent more than the average New Hampshire wage, has about 10,000 fewer workers on its payrolls, whereas the accommodation/food services industry (e.g. restaurants, bars, and coffee shops) has nearly 3,000 more workers, but only pays about half the average wage.
This shift to lesser-paying fields might be part of the reason that overall wages are struggling to keep pace with inflation. According to NHES, average hourly earnings for private employment (inflation-adjusted dollars) has fallen from $21.63 in December 2007 to $20.97 in December 2014.
Another lingering concern is the number of long-term unemployed, defined as those without a job who were actively seeking work for a period longer than 26 weeks. In 2007, NHES estimates that there were 3,090 New Hampshire residents that were long-term unemployed; in 2014, 9,814 Granite Staters fit this definition. (For context, in 2010, there were nearly 18,000 long-term unemployed workers.) This is not exclusively a New Hampshire phenomenon; for the United States as a whole, the BLS reports that there were 3.22 million long-term unemployed in 2014, compared with 1.24 million in 2007. Yet, as the NHES report concludes, the fact remains that a large share of the unemployed in the Granite State “appear to have gotten stuck in unemployment, despite the improvement in the overall economy.”