Table of Contents
The economy of a nation, region, or state is the sum of its people’s economic activities: we work, buy things, save, and invest. The New Hampshire economy primarily consists of the activities of the state’s 1.4 million residents who work, consume, save, and invest in the state. The economic roles of businesses and governments in this economy are as mechanisms for us to join together as workers, investors, and residents for the purpose of achieving our economic objectives and to prosper. Government also plays the role of helping people and businesses when they’re down, whether because of individualized circumstances or because of a public crisis. When the private economy is failing to provide opportunity, or even sustenance, government steps in.
One can describe the “New Hampshire economy,” but the state is not an economic island. Many of us work, consume, and invest outside of New Hampshire as well as within. Visitors, commuters, and outside investors contribute to the economic success of the state as well as those of us who live and work here. The New Hampshire economy is part of the regional, national, and global economies that have an enormous impact on what happens here—a fact driven home by the impact of a global pandemic.
Every state has an interconnected economy, with its economic well-being more determined by events beyond its borders than within. This is, however, particularly true of New Hampshire with eight of our ten counties, which encompass close to 85 percent of our population, sharing a border with another state. The three counties bordering Massachusetts, where about 60 percent of our population resides, play a particularly outsized role in any statistical analysis of the state’s economy.
This section of What is New Hampshire? describes the major features and trends of New Hampshire’s economy. Throughout this section, supplemental maps, charts, and tables are available by clicking on the small blue boxes with descriptions of the material. In addition, there are larger gray boxes that have additional explanatory text which can be accessed by clicking on the "+" next to its description.
The New Hampshire economy comprises more than 750,000 jobs of all types, and New Hampshire residents work in a diverse set of industries. Most of us both live and work in New Hampshire, but, as of 2017, 19 percent (roughly 123,500 people) of New Hampshire workers commuted to jobs in other states, with most of them (97,000) employed in Massachusetts. Few in the state are unemployed, and poverty levels are low relative to other states. Wages paid in the state have recently risen to around the national average, but median income—which includes in-state wage income, the out-of-state wage income of commuters, as well as income from investments, pensions, and other sources—is about average for the nation and about in the middle for New England states.
The text, tables, and charts that follow offer a walk through some of the most important measures of the New Hampshire economy, with comparisons to the nation as a whole and other New England states. Supplemental comparisons with the rest of the states and information on New Hampshire regions can be accessed by clicking on the blue boxes.
Chart 1. Industry Shares of Jobs in New Hampshire, 2021
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics
Chart 1 shows the distribution of jobs by industry for New Hampshire. It is notable how much of what makes up the New Hampshire economy, as with most economies, is simply the buying of goods and services by residents and visitors. The retail industry provided 14 percent of the employment in the state in 2021. The accommodations and food service industry made up 8 percent. The wholesale, transportation, and warehousing sector that supports those industries made up 7 percent. The healthcare services we utilize provided another 14 percent of jobs. There are also portions of other industries—real estate, and finance and insurance, for example—that are fueled by our personal purchasing power. Even the industries that serve businesses are, to a significant degree, working for businesses that directly serve consumers. Lawyers, accountants, and other professional service providers whose clients are stores, restaurants, and hospitals are also part of the economy driven by our personal spending.
While directly providing goods and services to residents and visitors accounts for the bulk of the employment in the state, this isn’t to say that the attention that is often paid to new or growing industries that serve customers beyond our borders, or primarily cater to business customers, is misplaced. There is no question that these are important: high-tech industries, corporate headquarters, and other national and international businesses bring income and talented employees to the state, they are customers for other New Hampshire businesses, and their employees’ wages are important to the consumption side of the economy.
Chart 1 paints a picture of a New Hampshire economy with a diverse mix of industries that allow for multiple paths for growing prosperity and makes the state’s economy more resilient than that of states which are dependent on fewer industries. In fact, New Hampshire’s mix of industries looks similar to that of the nation as a whole in its variety. The state isn’t immune to economic downturns, but it is less vulnerable to widespread economic turmoil from the failure of a single industry. In the COVID-19 recession, for example, the industries hardest hit nationally are well-represented in New Hampshire (Accommodation and Food Services being the standout example) and the state was seriously wounded. Our state, however, was spared the pain experienced by states such as Nevada and Hawaii that were more dependent on the single hardest-hit sector than was New Hampshire.
Granite Staters work in a range of industries and for employers of a range of sizes, from giant corporations to family-owned shops. In 2019, businesses with fewer than 20 employees employed 18 percent of New Hampshire workers, and enterprises with fewer than 100 employees employed 36 percent (inclusive of those with fewer than 20 employees). This is slightly higher than nationwide, where 32 percent of workers were in enterprises with fewer than 100 employees (Table 1).
Table 1. Percent of Employees Working for an Enterprise With…
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 Statistics of U.S. Businesses
The shares of the value of goods and services produced by industries, as measured by state gross domestic product (“GDP,” see box for explanation of this economic measure), resemble the shares of jobs, though there are some significant departures. For example, finance and insurance comprise only 4 percent of employment but produce 8 percent of state GDP. Accommodations & food services provides nine percent of jobs but only 3 percent of GDP. These types of discrepancies result from industries—such as finance and insurance—that employ relatively few people but produce high-priced goods or services, as well as the converse.
Chart 2. Value of Goods and Services Produced by Industry in New Hampshire, 2021
Notes: These data are shares of state GDP as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. See note below: "What GDP Measures in the Economy." The "other" category includes agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting; mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; construction; information; educational services; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and other not otherwise categorized services. Each of these is less than 5% of the New Hampshire economy. Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis
Gross domestic product (GDP), a widely cited economic statistic, is defined as the market value of goods and services produced by labor and property. It is calculated for the economy as a whole and separately for each industry. If you hear “the economy grew by 2 percent,” it means that GDP grew by 2 percent. If you hear “11 percent of the economy is in manufacturing,” it means that the value of goods and services produced in manufacturing makes up 11 percent of economy-wide GDP.
We use GDP to measure of economic growth and to describe the financial significance of different industries.
It is important to understand that GDP is not just the total amount spent on purchases in the state. What counts in a state’s GDP is the “value added” within the state. For example, take a car bought in New Hampshire but made in Ohio. The part of the price that is due to what the dealer did in New Hampshire counts in New Hampshire’s GDP. The part of the price due to assembling the car is in Ohio’s GDP.
New Hampshire has generally had one of the lowest unemployment rates, defined as people who are seeking employment but are not employed, in the country (Table 2).2 Outside of recessions, for the most part, people in New Hampshire who are able to work have been able to find jobs. That doesn’t mean they can find the jobs they want at the pay level they want, or that they are as fully employed as they would like to be. There has, however, generally been no shortage of jobs when the national economy has been strong.
Table 2. Unemployment Rate by State, Sept 2022
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics
In the recovery from the Covid recession, average and median wage levels have been extremely volatile. They were driven up by the exodus of low-wage workers from the workforce as the industries where they are concentrated, such as retail, food service, and accommodations, engaged in massive cutbacks. The nature of the rebound in employment has also created anomalies. In the last pre-Covid year of 2019 average hourly wages in New Hampshire were below the national average and in the middle of the New England states (Table 3).
Table 3. Average Hourly Wages, New England and United States, 2019
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Survey
Table 4. Percent of Employees Covered by a Union, New England and United States, 2021
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Median household income, defined as the point in the income distribution where half of households receive more and half receive less, is a commonly used measure of the financial health of a population. The income measured includes wages, business and investment income, and cash transfer payments such as Social Security, unemployment, and child support. Income has been heavily impacted by the Covid recession and government efforts to offset its impact on families and individuals. New Hampshire ranks as one of the ten highest-median-household-income states even though its national rank in wages paid by in-state employers is near the middle of the pack (see Table 5). The most likely explanation for this apparent inconsistency is the fact that many high-income earners who live in New Hampshire earn their wages in other states, particularly Massachusetts. New Hampshire ranks second only to New Jersey in the share of earnings by its residents attributable to commuting to jobs in other states—with net earnings by commuters accounting for 12 percent of total earnings by employed state residents. Only two other states exceed 10 percent—Connecticut and Maryland—and only 3 more exceed 5 percent—Rhode Island, Virginia, and Mississippi.
Table 5. Median Household Income, New England and United States, 2021
Source: American Community Survey, 2021 one-year estimates
The poverty rate is a measure of the share of people whose incomes fall below a specific threshold determined by their family type ($26,000 for a family of two adults and two children in 2020, for example). New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate in the country in 2021 (Table 6) . Of course, having over 7 percent of the people living in poverty in a relatively wealthy state in a wealthy country is short of ideal. The poverty rates are higher in the northern parts of the state, but most of those who are poor live in the southern, more densely populated area.
Table 6. Poverty Rate, New England and United States, 2021
Source: American Community Survey, 2021 1-year estimates
The people of New Hampshire have created a healthy and diverse set of industries through their labor, spending, and investment; are relatively well-off compared to other states; and work in a labor market where jobs are plentiful. Those who work in the state, however, experience wage levels that are only modest relative to the nation. Many commute to well-paying jobs in other states, and just over 7 percent live in poverty.
The tables and text above give a view of how people are now experiencing the New Hampshire economy. This section discusses important economic trends over the last 15 years.
Coming out of the Great Recession in 2010, the people of New Hampshire joined the rest of the country in recovery. Since that recession wasn’t as deep for New Hampshire’s resilient economy as for the rest of the country, as measured by percent change in GDP, it is perhaps not surprising that the recovery was less dramatic. Between 2010 and 2016 the state’s growth lagged behind the nation. Although 2016 saw the state stronger than the country as a whole, the state again began to fall behind in 2017. The Covid-19 recession saw the New Hampshire economy hit less hard again, though this time, it also outpaced the nation as a whole in the first year of recovery (Chart 3).
Chart 3. Real GDP Growth in New Hampshire and United States
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis
Since coming out of the Great Recession in 2010, and moving past the Covid-19 recession, the number of jobs in most of New Hampshire’s industries has risen, the exceptions being in government, retail, and finance & insurance (Chart 4). Professional, scientific, and technical services and management firms have seen an increase of over 18,000 jobs. Data limitations do not allow us to explore changes in New Hampshire for industries within this broad category, but nationally about 32 percent of the growth in this area has been in computer-related services, 24 percent in management consulting, and 16 percent in corporate management (companies that manage other companies). The rest of the growth in this category is sprinkled among other professional business, technical, or scientific services.
Chart 4. Job Change in New Hampshire by Industry, Sept 2010−Sept 2022
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages
Other industries that have seen significant growth include:
- Administrative & support and waste management & remediation services (listed in Chart 4 as ‘Administrative Services, etc.'), in which about 11,500 jobs were created. Nationally, about half of the new jobs in this category were in temporary help services and about 23 percent in building-related services such as landscaping and janitorial services. Eight percent of jobs in this sector around the nation have been created in investigation and security services and 6 percent in waste management.
- Construction jobs, which have seen an increase of over 9,000 jobs since 2010.
- Wholesale & transportation, where 8,400 jobs have been added.
In contrast, after rising for several years, retail jobs have been in decline since 2016, a trend exacerbated by pandemic business closures—with the result being a net employment loss from 2010 to the present. At the national level, retail jobs levels increased slightly from 2010 to 2016 and been relatively flat since then.
Government has seen the largest decline in employment in New Hampshire since 2010, with drops in five of the last twelve years. All levels of government have seen declines but local government has experienced the largest, with over two thirds of the losses in education.
Which industries have the strongest job growth has important implications for the living standards of state residents. Chart 5 shows the average weekly wage in each industry for 2019 compared to the change in jobs from 2010 to 2022. Job growth has been spread out between industries with weekly wages above and below the statewide overall 2019 average of $1,128 per week. Most of the jobs created have been in mid-compensation industries. Professional services, with the high average weekly wage of $1,960 has seen strong growth, but more people have also been employed in administrative services, construction, and transportation jobs, which pay much less. Losses have hit both the highest paying industry and the second lowest paying industry alike, with declines in both finance & insurance and retail.
Chart 5. Average Weekly Wages and Change in Number of Jobs, Feb 2020 to Aug 2022
Source: Average Weekly Wages and Change in Number of Jobs, Feb 2020 to Aug 2022
Wage growth in New Hampshire after the Great Recession through 2019 fell short of national trends overall. From 2008 to 2019, real average wages rose by just 0.3 percent in New Hampshire compared to 9.3 percent nationally. Even from 2010, when differences in the recession’s impact on the state and the nation had dissipated, wages rose 5.8 percent nationally compared to just 0.2 percent in New Hampshire. Over these periods, New Hampshire moved from exceeding the national average hourly wage to falling below it. In 2018 and 2019, inflation-adjusted hourly wages in the state actually declined (Chart 6).
Chart 6. Real Average Hourly Wage Growth in New Hampshire and United States, 2009 to 2021
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics
Between 2008 and 2019, wages in New Hampshire lost ground compared not only to the nation but also to other New England states (Chart 7). Rhode Island moved from having an average hourly wage below New Hampshire’s to having a wage above it.
Chart 7. Read Hourly Average Earnings in New England and United States, 2008 to 2021
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics
While 2020 saw strong average wage growth in New Hampshire and beyond, it was an artifact of so many low wage jobs being lost, rather than anything positive in the labor market and is not necessarily indicative of long-term trends. Wages in some industries were boosted in 2021 across the country as employers sought to restore their lost workforces. It is unclear at this point, however, what that will mean for sustained real wages, how New Hampshire will fare relative to other states, or the breadth of industries that will be permanently impacted.
Trends in New Hampshire in median household income largely mirrored the country from 2008 to 2016 but growth slowed relative to the rest of the country from 2016 to 2019. Specifically, incomes dipped during and after the Great Recession in New Hampshire and the country before beginning to recover around 2013. From 2008 to 2013 incomes dropped nationally at an annual rate of 1.7% and in New Hampshire by 1.6%. From 2013 to 2016 income grew nationally and in New Hampshire at an annual rate of 2.4%. From 2016 to 2019, however, New Hampshire lagged, with median household income growing at 1.2% annually, compared with 2.5% nationally (Chart 8). Post-pandemic, Granite State incomes have spiked sharply, almost reaching the Massachusetts average, the state which has had the highest average income in New England since 2016.
Chart 8. Median Household Income in New England and United States, 2008 to 2021
Note: The Census Bureau did not release data on median household income in 2020. Source: American Community Survey, 2008-2019, 2021 1-year estimates
Because Chart 8 shows only overall median income, it does not capture the substantial variation in income shifts along the income spectrum. Chart 9 shows the change in income for different New Hampshire household income groups between 2007 and 2019. Accounting for inflation, the 20 percent of households with the lowest incomes saw their median income decline by $1,952 and the middle-income group saw its income decline by $370, while the highest 5 percent income group saw its income jump by $43,418.
Chart 9. Change in Median NH Household Income 2007 to 2019, by Income Percentile
Note: Percentiles created at the household level, using household-level weights, among NH households only. Source: American Community Survey 2007, 2009, 2017, and 2019 1-year estimates.
This uneven growth follows national patterns dating from the late 1970s. For instance, using a somewhat different measure of income available for the country over a longer time frame, the Congressional Budget Office finds that the middle 20 percent of the U.S. income spectrum saw its average market income rise by $6,900 between 1979 and 2018. By comparison, the wealthiest 1 percent saw its market income rise over $1.4 million, from an average of $579,100 in 1979 to $1,987,500 in 2018 (inflation adjusted).
In New Hampshire, as in the United States more broadly, the share of people living in poverty has been remarkably stable over time. This is true for the official definition of poverty—households below 100 percent of the official federal poverty line—but also for other metrics based on that definition; the share of people living below half the poverty line (about $13,000 for a family of four) and the share living below twice the poverty line (about $53,000 for a family of four) have also been persistent (Chart 10).
Chart 10. Variation in New Hampshire Poverty Levels, 2008 to 2021
Note: The Census Bureau did not release data on median household income in 2020. Source: American Community Survey 2008−2019 & 2021 1-year estimates.
Although poverty has been stable, there is growing evidence that opportunity has declined—that the prospects for children to rise in economic status above their low-income or impoverished beginnings have diminished relative to the past. Importantly, research shows that children who are otherwise very similar do better when they are born in higher-income communities than when they are born in lower-income communities. The Opportunity Atlas, created in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, Harvard University, and Brown University, shows that while New Hampshire children do fairly well in adulthood, those raised in lower-income Sullivan and Coös Counties have lower household incomes in adulthood than their more affluent Hillsborough and Rockingham County counterparts.
While the official poverty rate increased slightly in 2020, the income measures used to calculate it does not include all forms of special payments provided by the government during the recession; when those are included in an alternative measure of poverty, the rate declined substantially. As of 2021, official poverty levels remain similar to what they have been for the past decade (Chart 10).
New Hampshire has many economic advantages that position it well as its economy continues to recover and evolve after the COVID-19 recession: low poverty, high average income, strong GDP growth, proximity to Massachusetts, and more. The Granite State encompasses a diverse base of industries and businesses from which it can grow, and its workforce is well educated. With foresight and will, New Hampshire can chart a course to a productive, prosperous economy that addresses its challenges and enhances the wellbeing of all who live here.