When she graduated from college in 2012, Molly Owen wasn’t in a financial position to move into her own apartment, much less out of Massachusetts, where she was living with her father.
Like many graduates during the Great Recession, she spent a couple of years living at home and saving money before finding an apartment with roommates. An apartment of her own, much less a home, seemed out of reach.
But earlier this year Molly and her husband, Alex, moved to New Hampshire. In doing so, they joined a small but significant group of migrants who have reversed a worrisome trend.
From 2008 to 2012, New Hampshire had an average annual net loss of 1,500 people in their 20s due to migration to other states. But from 2013 to 2017, the state posted a net gain of 1,200 20-somethings annually, according to a new report from UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy.
“After having a difficult time with migration during the recession, New Hampshire’s migration patterns are shifting back to what was common before the recession,” said Kenneth Johnson, a UNH professor and demographer. “The fact that more young adults are moving to New Hampshire — and again, the numbers are modest — it does give the state more intellectual and social capital to work with in the face of its aging population.”
New Hampshire’s low unemployment rate (2.7 percent) and aging population (it is the third oldest state in the nation, with 20 percent of Granite Staters predicted to be 65 or older by 2020), have imposed a workforce squeeze on the state’s companies.
“In 10 years or so, if we really don’t do a whole lot to help move us along in attracting and retaining folks in this state we will be in a place where we have more challenges,” said Will Arvelo, director of the Division of Economic Development. “It’s a wonderful thing to see the net increase in migration by young people to this state. We’re challenged in terms of our workforce numbers and any positive gain is a step in the right direction and we hope to see a continuation of that.”
Molly and Alex Owen expected to stay in Massachusetts, she said, but after he left active-duty Navy service Alex found that his best job prospect was at BAE Systems in New Hampshire. The cost of living in the Granite State was also an appeal.
“Cost of living and thinking of the cost of child care down the road makes it an attractive place. Plus, every weekend we’re out hiking and out skiing,” Molly Owen said. “And I’ve found, professionally, that it’s been a lot easier to get involved and make a meaningful difference in New Hampshire because it’s more egalitarian.”
Within a month of the move, she had found a job at Granite United Way.
Tom Fuller, 27, who works at Eversource, also landed his job within months of making the decision to move north from Massachusetts with his boyfriend.
In the recent past, one of the biggest dilemmas that companies like Eversource experienced when recruiting young employees from out of state was the lack of diverse social scenes that accompany big metropolitan areas.
But Fuller said he and his partner have had no trouble finding a community around their new home in Alexandria, and he’s become an active member in Eversource’s young professionals organization.
“We really enjoy the community and everything up there,” he said. And like Owens, Fuller was attracted by New Hampshire’s natural entertainment.
“I love living up in the Lakes Region specifically because I say that we get the best of all the seasons,” he said.
That’s the kind of attitude that government officials and business leaders want to promote.
“New Hampshire has become the gold standard for the rest of the country, and families and young adults have taken notice,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. “It’s no wonder that migration to New Hampshire is up among those in their 20s and 30s. From our investments in education — starting at early childhood education and continuing through undergraduate education or workforce training — to creating a job-oriented economy that is stronger than ever: New Hampshire has become a destination for success.”
Eversource and Arvelo have been at the forefront of a public-private group that is looking for ways to attract a younger and more diverse workforce to the state.
But while the UNH report shows a positive development, the migration gains are still well below the boom-times in the 1980s and 1990s, Johnson said.
And New Hampshire’s birth rate remains concerning — white Granite Staters, who make up 94 percent of the population, are dying or leaving the state at rates outpacing the birth rate.
“I think the trends are good for the state,” Johnson said. “But it’s not like it’s night and day here.”