Strengthening New Hampshire Conference Highlights Need for Greater Equity in Access to Opportunity


CONCORD, NH – The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute’s (NHFPI) Seventh Annual Conference, Strengthening New Hampshire: Creating Equitable Opportunities for All Granite Staters, convened nearly 140 attendees from across New Hampshire last week to examine factors that contribute to disparities in access to opportunity and discuss ways to ensure greater equity for all residents.

“Access to opportunity is uneven across New Hampshire,” said NHFPI Executive Director AnnMarie French. “This may be based on income, location, and the ability to access the foundational pillars of well-being – such as housing, health care, and educational opportunities. Some population groups are affected more than others, and some face multiple barriers that limit their ability to achieve economic stability and upward mobility.”

NHFPI’s conference, held Friday, February 21, at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord, gathered state policymakers; municipal, county and state government officials; foundation staff; nonprofit representatives from a broad range of areas; and members of the general public.

The event featured opening remarks from Pawn Nitichan, the Executive Director of City Year New Hampshire and Vice President of City Year, Inc. Nitichan, who serves on the Governor’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council and on the boards of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Reaching Higher NH, and Manchester Proud, stressed the widening opportunity gap in the state and the importance of working collaboratively to create greater access to opportunity for all residents.

“While we have much to be proud of as a state, including having among the lowest average poverty rate in the country, there is still quite uneven access to opportunity here in our state. Not all of our residents have the same opportunities due to a number of factors, some of which compound to create even greater barriers to success,” said Nitichan. “Bridging the opportunity gap for all is very hard, but I believe that we can start narrowing the gap more today. I believe that together we can make New Hampshire an even more wonderful place, not just for some of us, but for all of us.”

The conference opening presentation, “New Hampshire’s Demographics, Economy, and Access to Opportunity” was provided by NHFPI Policy Analyst Phil Sletten and featured an overview of the state’s population and demographic changes. The presentation highlighted data demonstrating inequities that impact residents of different ages, incomes, abilities and disabilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and geographic locations of the state. Sletten also reviewed key indicators in the areas of income, health, housing, and education, which laid the foundation for the conference panel discussion.

The panel addressed levels of access and opportunity in the areas of housing, health, and education, and the connections to economic stability and a strong workforce, and highlighted areas of progress. Panel participants included: Ben Frost, Managing Director, Policy and Public Affairs, New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority; Ann Landry, Associate Commissioner for Population Health, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services; and Michael Turmelle, Director of Education and Career Initiatives, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Panelists discussed current initiatives, recent policy changes, and new state budget investments designed to enhance support for residents in these areas. Panel moderator Victoria Adewumi, Community Liaison for the Manchester Health Department and member of the NHFPI Board of Directors, highlighted the interconnections among the topic areas and the greater barriers experienced by diverse groups of Granite Staters.

The second half of the conference featured a focus on data and metrics related to community capacity. NHFPI Policy Analyst Phil Sletten presented “Examining Local Economic Conditions and Community Challenges,” which featured statewide, regional, and local level factors that contribute to significant differences in opportunities for children and families. The presentation focused on the different economic conditions faced both across and within regions. Sletten noted that neighboring communities can face different economic circumstances, with municipal-level indicators showing divergent trends, and that communities which lag behind the state in key indicators can be found in nearly every part of the state. The presentation emphasized that communities which may have the greatest proportion of residents in need, with the fewest resources at home, may also be ones with the least ability to invest in themselves.

In the first of two featured guest presentations, Reaching Higher New Hampshire Executive Director Evelyn Aissa and Director of Policy and Practice Liz Canada co-presented the organization’s new report, The Whole Picture of Public Education in New Hampshire. The report found that both teacher salaries and levels of poverty and near-poverty conditions in student families, particularly for younger students, are predictors for student outcomes on standardized tests. For older students, the education level of the community as a whole is also a predictor, according to Reaching Higher’s research. This research provides insights into both the barriers to accessing opportunity that students face when they are navigating poverty, and suggests that further research could help explain additional community factors contributing to student success.

In the second featured guest presentation, New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority Executive Director Katherine Easterly Martey and Director of Economic Development Kevin Peterson outlined the organization’s new Community Indicators project, which was developed in partnership with NHFPI. The indicators are designed to provide information and context on community well-being to local leaders, nonprofit organizations, state agencies, and other stakeholders. The project is designed to help meet the growing need for transparent access to relevant and reliable data to build capacity, support business growth and job creation, and improve community agency and well-being.

“There is an opportunity gap in New Hampshire, and the divide is even greater for some residents and population groups. This gap in opportunity is impacting New Hampshire’s children and adults, as well as the state’s workforce and economy,” said NHFPI Executive Director AnnMarie French in closing remarks. “We should examine how our policy choices perpetuate this opportunity gap and limit the ability of our residents – and particularly our children – to achieve their full potential. We will all benefit from a more equitable and vibrant community, and New Hampshire will be much stronger as a result.”

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau served as the source for many of the conference presentations and showcased projects, and the event also highlighted the importance of ensuring a complete count for the upcoming 2020 Census, which is scheduled to begin this Spring. In addition to providing important information about the state’s population, Census data are also used to determine levels of federal funding that New Hampshire relies upon for a broad array of programs and services.

Sponsorship support for NHFPI’s conference was provided by the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, the New Hampshire Hospital Association, AmeriHealth Caritas New Hampshire, Helms and Company, Waypoint, New Futures, Reaching Higher New Hampshire, and Northeast Delta Dental.

Conference presentations and resources provided at the event are available online at the NHFPI website.