Are Granite Staters Better Off Than Four Years Ago? Depends On Your Job

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In his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, Mitt Romney asked American voters “are you better off than you were four years ago when President Obama was elected?” The President responded with this: “we are absolutely better off than we were when I was sworn in and we were losing 800,000 jobs in a month.”  “Better-off” can be measured in any number of ways, from mood to consumer-confidence. But job security is a good one.

Of course, your job security has a lot to do with what sector you work in.  Let’s break it down:

Health Care

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If you work in health care, you should be feeling pretty good. Health care is a major economic engine for New Hampshire, and represents 23% of total economic activity. Although job growth has slowed since 2009, that field has not seen any job loss despite the recession. However, the health care industry’s long-term boom is due in part to the spiraling cost of care.  If state and federal policymakers can begin to control those costs, this industry’s growth will continue to slow.

In the last budget, the state legislature cut $130 million in Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals.  This may be one factor putting a damper on job growth in the health care.  At least, that is what the hospitals argued at the time.  Dennis Delay at the Center for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) says this may have played a part in the sustained pause in job growth among the state’s hospitals.

Manufacturing

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Manufacturing jobs have been declining since the 1980s.  Delay says this trend is simply the nature of the industry: as firms invest in increasingly efficient technology, they can increase productivity without employing more people. That’s made manufacturing jobs more scarce, more technical, and better paying. So, Delay says, “if you can get a job in manufacturing, it’s a good one.”

Despite the overall downward trend, the recession has been unexpectedly good to manufacturing.  In 2011, New Hampshire added 816 jobs – most of which were in the manufacturing of computers and primary metals. This was the first time in 10 years the state saw significant growth in this sector. And that modest growth is expected to continue.

So the bottom line for those in manufacturing?  You may not be as well off as you were four years ago, but you are better off than you were two years ago – and that’s something.

Hospitality

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Although hit hard initially by the recession, this sector has been growing steadily in New Hampshire since 2009. Unlike manufacturing, the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors can’t invest in more productive technology. They have to hire workers in order to grow. Because of that, these sectors tend to recover first.   Today, New Hampshire has 3,935 more jobs in the hospitality sector than it did four years ago, and 1,776 more jobs than it has had at any time in the last twelve years.

Business Services

This industry includes financial consultants, engineering firms, temporary employment firms, payroll and other professional services.  It is a high-wage sector with a growing workforce. Although the sector took an initial hit with the recession, it recovered quickly as firms in other sectors laid off salaried employees, and began relying more on unsalaried contractors.   After the recession, as firms hired back salaried workers, jobs numbers did slow.  But overall, consulting and business services are likely to handily return to pre-recession growth rates.

State Government

Interestingly, state government is the only sector we looked at in which job security is inarguably worse than it was four years ago.

Why?

Initially, the recession meant growth for the public sector. There was a higher demand for public services as Granite Staters found themselves in need of assistance.  Additionally, stimulus funds from the federal government made their way to state government.  Now, New Hampshire lawmakers are trying to balance the budget, and Congress is trying to control the nation’s spiraling debt. As a result, the public sector is taking a hit – especially in New Hampshire, which lost about 1,000 state government jobs in the last year.

New Homes

Those who rely on the housing market for employment – construction workers, builders, and real estate agents — are doing no worse today than they were four years ago. That’s because the housing market began its decline in New Hampshire back in 2006. While the decline in home sales began to stabilize in 2008, efforts by the federal government to stimulate growth with the first and second-time home-buyers tax credit had an unremarkable effect on home sales and residential construction in the state.

Although New Hampshire did see a decline in home sales and new home construction, the state didn’t actually have much of a bubble to begin with. That’s because the state’s housing boom and bust had already occurred in the 1980s. In 1986, New Hampshire’s new housing permits peaked at 18,015 new homes built. When the rest of the country was experiencing an enormous housing boom in the 2000s, New Hampshire was building fewer than 9,000 homes a year. This didn’t, however, keep the state from seeing a major decline in home sales between 2004 and 2008.

Like the rest of the country, New Hampshire real estate agents, construction workers, and builders are now waiting for what is known as the “shadow inventory,” a backlog in available real-estate, to sell — so that home prices and sales numbers can begin to rise again.

That might not be so far off, Dennis Delay says.  “You could see a housing-led recovery in late 2013, early 2014.”  Housing prices and interest rates are low, and “you have a lot of pent-up demand… too many 20- and 30-somethings living with their parents who would like to get into their own place.”

Comments

  • HA

    It is interesting how there is no one, overarching “better than” metric. Having graduated from college during Obama’s tenure, it is really hard to judge my personal economic growth or decline pre- and post-Obama.

    I think it all comes down to what is most important to you (economic growth, jobs, social issues, etc.). From where I stand, the economic issues are less pressing than the evolving environmental and social policies. I also have a strong and vested intrest about the trajectory that science policy and funding now and in the future.

    These factors, though not necessarily uniformly “better” under Obama, hold the most hope for improvement under his presidency.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeannie.legrow Jeannie LeGrow

    4 years ago I was unemployed, living with my parents and uninsured. I am now a small business owner, living in a house, insured and married. Because I was uninsured 4 years ago, unknown to me, a tumor was growing inside me. Thanks to my current situation I am able to get treatment but it wouldn’t have spread if I had been able to get regular check ups when I was out of work.

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