CONCORD — New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate in the country between 2016 and 2018, according to the latest national census data released this month.
The state has an average of 6.4% of the population living in poverty as opposed to the nationwide average of 12.3% over the three-year period, according to the data. Maryland is the next closest, with 7.1%.
While Gov. Chris Sununu touts having the lowest poverty rate, statewide advocates say the statistics don’t paint a complete picture, especially with the state’s high cost of living and low minimum wage.
Percentage in poverty by state
|State||3-year average percentage (2016-18)|
|SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau|
On Thursday, Sununu said having the lowest poverty rate proves his administration’s “pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda is working” for the people of the Granite State.
“With the lowest poverty rate in the nation over the last three years, combined with the fact that more people are working than ever before, the New Hampshire economy is roaring,” the governor said in a statement.
Many factors are used to determine poverty, including income, family size and composition, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate across the country appears to be improving, with data showing declines in poverty the past four years.
For the first time in 11 years, the official nationwide poverty rate in 2018 was significantly lower than 2007, the year before the most recent recession, according to the Census Bureau. Since 2014, the national poverty rate has declined 3%, from 14.8% to 11.8%.
Among New England states between 2016 and 2018, Maine had the highest poverty rate at 12.6%, Massachusetts had 9.8% and Vermont had 9.6%.
New Hampshire has held a lower poverty rate for several years, said Sarah Jane Knoy, executive director of the Granite State Organizing Project based in Manchester.
“I don’t think it takes into consideration how low the government sets that rate, and I also don’t think it takes into consideration the cost of living in New Hampshire,” she said.
The state needs to continue working toward more affordable housing and raising the $7.25 minimum wage, she said.
“It doesn’t mean poverty disappears,” Knoy said of the state’s 6.4% poverty rate. “... It doesn’t mean people don’t need to work three jobs.”
The low poverty rate is a result of the state’s strong economy and low unemployment rate, said Taylor Caswell, state commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
“There is a connection to the economy,” he said. “We have jobs available across the state.”
The data shows the state is working toward a sustainable economy for everyone in hopes of avoiding poverty altogether, he said. He also gave a nod to the state’s nonprofit and other support services aimed at pulling people out of poverty.
“It’s a combined effort,” he said.
Sununu, a Republican, said having the lowest poverty rate in the country reflects the state’s overall economy.
“We have opened up doors of opportunity here in the Granite State like never before,” he said in the statement.