New Hampshire is on pace to suffer its slowest population growth in a century.
The state’s 2 percent population growth between 2010 and 2017 is “putting this decade on track to be the slowest-growing decade for the Granite State since 1910-1920,” according to a workforce analysis report released Thursday.
“Attracting workers to replace retirees will be a primary focus for New Hampshire’s employers over the next decade,” said the analysis from New Hampshire Employment Security. “The limitation in the number of available workers might add roadblocks to companies’ ability to expand.”
The state for three straight decades — between 1960 and 1990 — saw the population grow by more than 20 percent each. Between 2000 and 2010, that growth totaled 6.5 percent.
The state is home to the nation’s second-oldest population as well as a tight housing market with record prices this year — two factors putting strains on growing the workforce.
New Hampshire Housing and the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire are among the organizations that have been touting the link between housing and workers.
“If you don’t have adequate housing, you can’t recruit and retain workers,” said Dean Christon, executive director of New Hampshire Housing. “It’s one of the factors that I think we need to address if we’re going to continue to grow economically.”
The state is in the midst of 33 consecutive months of unemployment registering below 3 percent.
Residents 55 and over account for more than 28 percent of the state’s labor force, which is comprised of people either working or searching for work. That percentage was 14 percent in 1998.
“A greater percentage of the older workers are actually working,” said Annette Nielsen, an economist at employment security who authored the analysis.
People aged 65-74 in the labor force nearly tripled, from 17,000 in 1999-2000 to 48,300 in 2017-18.
The older population might be working longer because people feel healthier or are more concerned about their finances lasting longer as people live longer, Nielsen said.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, many younger people moved to the state and started families, forming roots here until their children moved away.
“The solution? All those people should encourage their children to come back,” Nielsen said.
The report welcomed several large mixed-use developments, in Londonderry and Salem, with large housing components and the likelihood they could attract potential new workers.
The report suggested policies “encouraging the development of workforce housing” that would bring more people to the state.
Christon said there remains too little inventory of small homes for sale.
“You’re getting that competition between first-time buyers and those folks who are trying to downsize,” he said. “That can be a real challenge for people.”
The report mentioned that more than 5,900 people 25 to 34 were not in the labor force due to disability, more than double the number in 2007.
“More detailed information is needed, but with current labor force shortages, these residents represent a potential source of labor,” it said.
For those 45 to 54, more than half said they weren’t in the labor force because of disability.
Not a decade ago the state’s employment fortunes were reversed as the Great Recession set in.
The report recalled spring 2009, when some employers received hundreds of applications for a single job opening.
“Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction, with employers not being able to find workers despite (a) willingness to pay higher wages and benefits,” the analysis said.