First Published in the Business NH Magazine, December 6, 2021
More than a year and a half into the pandemic, research indicates that the people and communities most affected by this crisis are those who were the least prepared to weather it. New Hampshire has an opportunity, with significant and flexible federal funds available, to ensure the economic recovery includes the residents, businesses and communities who have endured the greatest hardship. Two recent reports from the NH Fiscal Policy Institute (NHFPI) identify communities and employment sectors that likely faced the greatest effects.
Locating the Needs
Families and communities with the least financial resources going into the pandemic have likely fallen the furthest behind, and the long-term effects on children may be significant without additional assistance.
NHFPI recently analyzed data provided by the NH Department of Education to better understand where families with limited means live in the state. This data is based on free and reduced-price school meal programs, which use low household incomes and certain other criteria to determine eligibility.
Both U.S. Census Bureau data and the free and reduced-price meal eligibility data show Black, Hispanic and multiracial residents and students, respectively, are disproportionately likely to live in or near poverty.
About 1 in 4 free and reduced-price meal eligible students were enrolled in the Manchester and Nashua school districts combined, and 2 in 5 students of color attended those districts. However, the remaining students in each of these categories lived in communities throughout the rest of the state.
This analysis can help identify communities and populations that would most benefit from increases in supports and services, and where greater investments might help create more equitable access to opportunity.
Assessing the Effects
While the unemployment rate has dropped to pre-pandemic levels, the number of NH residents employed was 3.2% lower in July 2021 than in January 2020 as there was about 17,200 fewer people working or actively looking for work.
The gap in the employment recovery appears to be primarily in low-wage work. Analysis from researchers at Harvard University and Brown University shows that employment losses and gains have been uneven. While middle wage and high wage work has grown relative to January 2020, low-wage employment was approximately 16.4% below pre-pandemic levels in the state in late June 2021.
Workers earning low wages appear to have been more likely to lose their jobs and may be less likely to be able to afford caregiving for children, older adults or other family members who might require specialized assistance and support. Analysis from the NH Department of Health and Human Services suggests only 60% of identified child care needs were met before the pandemic, and the capacity for child care remained below pre-pandemic levels in early 2021.
Deploying the Resources
New Hampshire has a significant amount of available federal resources to deploy in support of the recovery. The American Rescue Plan Act directed nearly $995 million to the state government, with another $462.3 million going to counties, cities and towns.
Responding directly to COVID-19 and supporting immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses were identified as key uses for these funds in federal guidance.
Another core objective is to address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the unequal effect of the pandemic on certain populations, particularly among low-income communities and people of color. The federal guidance encouraged funds to be used to foster a strong, inclusive and equitable recovery, especially uses with long-term benefits for health and economic outcomes.
These resources may be used to employ navigators to help connect eligible residents to available benefits and income supports, including many that are new, expanded or temporary. Enhancing access to the expanded Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, food assistance and other programs will bolster incomes and likely boost local economies.
New Hampshire has an opportunity to use this federal aid in innovative and effective ways to help address the uneven effects of the pandemic. Using available data to identify needs and strategically deploying resources can help foster a more resilient and inclusive recovery.
– AnnMarie French, Executive Director