I f you got a pay raise during the pandemic, you weren’t alone.
Workers in New Hampshire on average made nearly $2 more an hour in the year ending last June, according to a comparison of two annual state reports on wages and occupations.
The state’s labor market remains an arms race to hire talent, pushing wages higher as the region emerges from the depth of the coronavirus pandemic and reshaped views of how and when people work.
“Businesses that can afford to increase wages are doing so, because it’s a very competitive market out there,” said Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.
The median hourly pay — meaning half of workers made more and half earned less — rose to $23.86 an hour from $21.97 the previous year — an increase of $1.89.
(If you compared the average, workers made $30.12 an hour or $1.88 more than the previous year.)
Not all regions are equal
Two large employers with “Dartmouth” in their name drive the Upper Valley’s economy.
“Lebanon-Hanover has a very high proportion of medical professions (Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center) as well as Dartmouth (College) and a pretty vibrant manufacturing sector for a North Country region,” said Brian Gottlob, director of the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, which produced the reports.
The Lebanon-Hanover area topped the list with a median hourly wage of $24.78, but that actually was 29 cents less than the previous year. (If all wages were averaged instead, the area’s hourly wage would top $35.)
Four of the 17 regions saw a decrease in median hourly wages from a year earlier.
Registering the lowest median hourly wage at $18.99, the Conway-Wolfeboro region “is dominated by hospitality and retail industries and occupations,” Gottlob said.
The mix of jobs heavily influences the hourly wage within a region.
Salem, registering less than $20 an hour, has 21% of its occupational employment in sales-related jobs with a median wage of $15.80, compared with just 11% statewide, he said.
The top and the bottom
A medical job could be the best medicine when it comes to earning a bigger paycheck.
Eight of the state’s 10 most lucrative occupations by average wages are in the medical field.
Topping the list are psychiatrists, who made on average $160.89 an hour — or more than $334,000 a year for a 40-hour week. Dentists, eighth on the list, averaged $113.28 an hour.
Chief executives and bioengineers/biomedical engineers also landed on that list, each at more than $90 an hour.
On the flip side, child care workers averaging $12.77 an hour would make less than $27,000 a year if working full-time.
The housing/pay disconnect
A teacher in the Portsmouth area made about $4,300 more a year than a teacher in northern New Hampshire, but that North Country teacher would pay nearly $400,000 less for a median-priced home there.
A cashier in greater Manchester earned only 43 cents an hour more than one in the North Country but would pay twice as much for a median-priced house.
And an accountant or auditor earned $38.29 an hour in the Lebanon-Hanover area, 3 cents more than in Manchester, where a median-priced house would cost about $138,000 less.
A lack of housing in the Concord area is “a major issue” for employers who find it difficult to hire workers, said Sink, the Concord chamber executive. But, he said, “there are a lot of projects in the pipeline in our area.”
The cost of living “influences what businesses have to pay to attract workers, especially workers who are mobile and can find job opportunities in many locations,” Gottlob said.
New Hampshire’s cost of living has grown closer to Massachusetts’ over the past decade, he said.
“I think it has been a hard reality for many New Hampshire businesses to realize that it is no longer as easy to say, ‘We can pay significantly less in New Hampshire because our cost of living is so low.’ The gap has narrowed too much,” he said.
By one measure, Massachusetts homes cost $136,476 more than New Hampshire homes for the first 10 months of 2022. But over the past four years, New Hampshire’s prices have grown at a faster rate, according to figures from the respective states’ Realtor associations.
Big boost for lowest-paid
Gottlob said most of the latest wage report didn’t surprise him, “but maybe the magnitude of the increase in wages among many lower-wage occupations, especially in food services, hospitality and retail.”
“Occupations like food preparation workers have had a median wage increase of over 14% as just one example,” he said. “Many lower-wage occupations in hospitality and retail industries have been among the hardest to fill since the pandemic, and the result has been higher wages for those most in need of an increase. It is the market, and supply and demand working as it should.”
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations, bundled into one group of lower-wage occupations, saw a 14.8% boost in median wages, Gottlob said.
For restaurant and lodging establishments, wages are at “all-time highs at almost every location where I’ve spoken to the owners,” said Mike Somers, CEO and president of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association.
More or less, by design
Fashion pays better than interior.
Web is more lucrative than floral.
Commercial and industrial produce higher paychecks than graphic.
All are designers making something — but all aren’t paid equally.
Fashion designers, for instance, earn triple the hourly wage of a floral designer.
But when it’s time to shop, some may prefer to buy a bouquet over a blouse.
That decision could come down to what a person can afford to buy.