Another View - Richard Ober: We have to act now to stop the decline in NH's future prospects
That data, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book, was reported as bad news. That’s because for the past decade, New Hampshire has consistently ranked first in this category. What happened? New Hampshire dropped to fourth for two reasons: Alarming rises in childhood poverty and in overall economic insecurity.
Since 2006, the state’s average annual population growth has plunged nearly 90 percent to fewer than 2,000 new residents per year. That’s down from an annual pace of 18,000 in the 1980s and 11,500 in the early 2000s. For the first time since 1970, more residents are leaving than arriving. Natural increase — births over deaths — has also slowed.
We’d better find out fast because the benefits of our past growth were not equally shared and we can no longer count on importing our success. We must make the right investments and policy decisions here and now. That demands that we confront some challenging truths, especially facing children and youth.
• Too many kids have too little. Sixteen thousand more children live in poverty today than did in 2008 — that’s a 63-percent increase, which is the highest rate of increase in the country. Why is that happening, and how have we let it?
Left unchecked, these trends could reduce our workforce by 10 percent in the next decade. Even now, employers report that they can’t find the skilled young workers they need.
In New Hampshire, we understand the power of public-private partnerships. The state is small enough that we can get people together to solve problems. And our politics is less polarized than in many places. We just need to put these assets to work.
With our many partners, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is working to improve early childhood outcomes in the North Country, leading a 10-year strategy to reduce teen drinking and drug abuse, and creating more affordable and accessible pathways to help students thrive in today’s economy. We are proud of these efforts.
But we must do more, and that starts by asking questions. If fast growth was the defining theme of the last quarter century, what will it be for the next? How do we create a stronger safety net today while reducing the need for it tomorrow? Which investments in youth and children produce the greatest return in their quality of life and the state’s economic prosperity? What do young people think?
These are the questions that need answers. I am confident that, in the finest New Hampshire tradition, we can work in partnership across business, government and nonprofit sectors to answer those questions and map out solutions — with all the urgency and the momentum that the work demands.
Richard Ober is president and CEO of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.