Cloudy forecast for jobs in New Hampshire

For years, New Hampshire had built a solid reputation as a state that weathers economic downturns better and rebounds quicker than its New England neighbors, if not many states across the country.

Apparently, not this time.

At least that is the basic conclusion of a report released at last week’s New England Economic Partnership conference at Bryant University in Rhode Island. The New Hampshire portion of the report, written by economist Dennis Delay of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, forecast that state job growth is expected to lag the region over the next few years.

“New Hampshire’s recovery has been lackluster when compared to the New England job recovery,” concluded Delay, who serves as the state’s forecast manager for the New England partnership. “While the assessment of New Hampshire’s current employment picture may improve with next year’s revisions to the current jobs data, the weak performance of the state economy is still a serious concern.”

Among some other key findings in the December 2012 forecast for New Hampshire:

• The annual rate of decline among New Hampshire manufacturing jobs is expected to slow to an average of 0.2 percent over the next four years. That’s better than the annual drop of 3 percent during the past five years.

• Leisure and hospitality jobs are expected to lead growth in the services sector, followed by professional and business service jobs. Conversely, job growth in the education and health care fields is expected to slow through 2016.

• And while the real estate market is showing signs of improvement, a sharp rebound doesn’t appear likely. While home sales are up 20 percent in the past year, housing prices remain stagnant.

All of this data reinforces the conclusion that the state’s recovery from the Great Recession has been “disappointing,” according to the report. For example, while the New England job base fell 4.5 percent since the start of the recession, it is now within 3 percent of pre-recession levels. New Hampshire, which lost 4 percent of its job base, remains stuck at that level.

Specifically, that means it will take until the final quarter of 2014 – two years from today – for New Hampshire to once again reach 650,000 nonfarm jobs that it reported just prior to the recession in 2008, according to the report.

“In prior recoveries, New Hampshire’s rate of job growth often substantially stripped employment expansion in New England and the nation,” Delay wrote. “That is not occurring now.”

That’s not to say all the economic news about New Hampshire is bleak. The report notes the state was ranked by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as the most child-friendly state in the nation for the ninth time in 10 years; Kiplinger’s Personal Finance singled out Manchester-Nashua as the second-best region in the country to raise a family; and a New Hampshire Business & Industry poll published this summer found that half of the businesses surveyed “expect improved economic conditions in 2013.”

But the fact that New Hampshire appears to be losing its historical resilience to downturns in the economy is certainly troubling and worthy of attention by the state’s policymakers – in government and otherwise – going forward in 2013.