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January 29. 2013 6:50PM

Washington-based think tank ranks NH 2nd for residents' fiscal security

New Hampshire ranks second in the country overall in the ability of its residents to achieve financial security, according to a 50-state analysis by a Washington-based think tank that used everything from poverty rates to student loan defaults to paint a state-by-state picture of citizen solvency.

The 2013 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, produced by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), is based on statistics in five broad categories - financial assets and income, business and jobs, housing and home ownership, health care and education.

New Hampshire made the top 10 in each of the five categories, and was second only to Vermont in the overall scoring.

The CFED, a nonprofit organization focused on expanding economic opportunity for low-income families and communities, produces the annual survey in the hope of influencing national policy on a broad range of economic issues. Its funding comes from a long list of private and corporate donors, ranging from the AARP to Walmart.

In the category of financial assets and income, New Hampshire has a poverty rate of 9 percent, compared to an average of 14.6 percent nationally, second only to Alaska. When it comes to access to banking services, New Hampshire ranked No. 1. Only 1.9 percent of the state's residents had no access to banking, compared to 8.2 percent nationally.

The state's worst ranking in financial assets came in credit card debt, where the average for New Hampshire residents of $11,748 exceeded the national average of $10,736.

In the business and jobs category, New Hampshire has the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation, but ranks dead last when it comes to private loans to small businesses. The national average is $1,148 per employee, compared to $781 per employee in the Granite State. That low rating was offset by the state's relative high retirement plan participation and the large number of employers offering health insurance.

In housing and home ownership, the state has a high rate of home ownership, at 71.5 percent, compared to a national average of 64.6 percent, but it comes with a high cost burden. Homeowners in New Hampshire spend about 40 percent of their income on housing, compared to 37 percent nationally.

In health care, the state has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the nation, at 12 percent, and the best rating for employer-provided coverage, at 70 percent, compared to 57.4 percent nationally. But the state ranked 50th when it comes to health insurance for the poorest 20 percent of the population.

In education, the state barely made the top 10, coming in ninth. Excellent ratings in proficiency of elementary school students and a high rate of educational attainment were offset by poor rankings in early childhood education and student debt.

New Hampshire ranks 46th in the number of college graduates with debt, at 75 percent compared to 66 percent nationally, and has the 48th highest average debt, at $32,440 per student, compared to $26,600 nationally.

Despite those large numbers, the state has the sixth lowest student loan default rate, at 8 percent, compared to 13 percent nationally.

Recommended changes

The report paints a picture consistent with previous economic analyses, which suggest that the state is a great place to be if you are well-educated with a good job, but not a good place for the unemployed or low-income families.

"On the one hand, you have a pretty high rate of employers offering health insurance," said Ida Rademacher, chief program officer at CFED. "But if you look at the percentage in the state that are under-insured by income bracket, you are second to last in the country."

Rademacher said policymakers in the state can draw valuable information from the full report, which is available online at cfed.org.

"Just because you have a high overall rank, that doesn't mean there aren't some serious issues to be addressed," she said.

Based on the scorecard, the CFED recommends that the state take steps to protect cost-burdened homeowners from foreclosure. It recommends low-cost mediation programs and regulations on mortgage services that would forbid banks from imposing deficiency judgments on borrowers if the foreclosure sale of their primary home failed to raise an amount equal to the outstanding mortgage.

To reduce college debt, among the highest in the nation, the CFED recommends that the state match deposits into its qualified college saving plan, at least to some degree.

When it comes to health insurance, the group recommends that New Hampshire expands Medicaid coverage, which is currently under consideration in Concord.

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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