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NH jobless rate lowest in nation?


March 15. 2016 9:21PM


Come next week, New Hampshire has a good shot at landing the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

The state Tuesday announced its February unemployment rate fell to 2.7 percent, just below the January rate for both North Dakota and South Dakota.

The rankings won’t be known until those two states report later this month, but coming out on top won’t please everyone.

“If you’re a politician, it’s bragging rights,” said economist Brian Gottlob, principal of PolEcon Research in Dover. “If you’re an employer, you say, ‘I don’t need the bragging. What I need is the people.’”

The lower the unemployment rate, generally the more difficult it is for businesses to hire workers.

“There’s definitely a shortage of qualified workers in the tech space right now in New Hampshire,” said Shannon Herrmann, recruiting manager at Alexander Technology Group, a staffing agency where she works in the Bedford office.

“In the software development world, I would say it’s almost impossible for a hiring manager to get every thing on their wish list at this point,” Herrmann said.

David Dion, who owns four Dairy Queen restaurants in New Hampshire, said when the unemployment rate stood at 7 percent, he would receive 300 job applications in a month.

“Now down to 3 percent or less than 3 percent, there’s not much left,” said Dion, who worked hard recently to hire 55 workers for his reopened restaurant on Manchester’s Second Street.

He said he starts workers at $8 an hour, above the $7.25 federal minimum wage New Hampshire follows.

“You’re not going to keep up at $7.50,” he said. “They’re going to be looking around for a job every day.”

Negative migration

Gottlob said the state needs to expand its labor force.

In 2001, New Hampshire netted 12,132 more people who moved into New Hampshire compared to the number who moved out of state, according to figures Gottlob provided.

The state netted at least 2,000 people migrating each year between 2001 and 2006. But starting in 2007, the state has seen a negative migration in eight of the past nine years.

“One way you can draw more talent and more applicants is by offering higher wages, and I don’t think that’s really happened as much in New Hampshire,” Gottlob said.

He said census figures show the cost-of-living gap between Massachusetts and New Hampshire is shrinking.

A recent study, meanwhile, showed tech workers last year averaged $100,682 annual income in New Hampshire, which ranked 13th in the country. Workers in third-ranked Massachusetts averaged $127,875.

New Hampshire, however, doesn’t have a sales or income tax.

20,200 out of work

New Hampshire’s unemployment rate in February dropped to 2.7 percent, from 2.9 percent in January. Nationally, the seasonally adjusted rate for February was 4.9 percent, unchanged from January and down 0.6 percentage points from February 2015.

New Hampshire Employment Security said the number of employed residents last month totaled 722,000, an increase of 3,050 from the previous month and an increase of 8,380 from February 2015, according to seasonably adjusted estimates.

The number of unemployed residents decreased by 1,380 last month to 20,200. That represented 7,440 fewer unemployed than in February 2015. The total labor force also grew by 1,670 from January to February this year to 742,200. The labor force also grew by 940 since February 2015.

Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner at New Hampshire Employment Security, said the unemployment rate “surprises me every month.”

“New Hampshire continues to outpace the country and outpace the region as it has the lowest unemployment rate in New England,” Lavers said.

Since the current method for calculating rates began in 1976, the lowest unemployment rate ever was 2.2 percent in parts of 1987 and 1988.

The highest, 7.4 percent, occurred in parts of 1991 and 1992, according to New Hampshire Employment Security.

Lavers said attendance at job fairs his department sponsors probably is a third of what it was two years ago. But he said some people are working in part-time jobs when they want full-time opportunities.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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