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Friday, May 4, 2012

Graying of NH colors our world

Telegraph Editorial

What happens when you combine an aging state with a slowdown in population growth?

Trouble.

That’s the short version of a new study by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, which examines how fertility, mortality and migration are contributing to population trends that pose some serious challenges to the state’s future economic health.

Authored by senior demographer Kenneth Johnson, the 37-page report found:

The state’s population growth is slowing. While New Hampshire experienced a 6.5 percent gain of 80,700 residents between 2000 and 2010, that represented the smallest increase since the 1960s.

What’s more, much of the growth in recent years can be attributed to an excess of births over deaths, rather than the healthy migration of people from other states as in previous decades.

The state is getting older. With the fourth-highest median age in the country – at 41.1, only Maine, Vermont and West Virginia are higher – the state’s 65 and older population is expected to double in the next 20 years. That will have a significant impact on the cost of providing state and local services, especially in health care.

Conversely, the number of children in the state fell in the past decade, while the number of young adults and people with families – the heart of the state’s workforce – rose only modestly.

And that’s not good news for New Hampshire companies looking to maintain or expand their businesses.

New Hampshire is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, though that growth is modest and concentrated in certain parts of the state. And while New Hampshire remains one of the least diverse states in the nation – 92.3 percent white based on the 2010 census – minorities made up more than half the state’s population gains between 2000 and 2010.

Now, if some of this sounds familiar, it should. The findings support previous work done by the institute, as well as a study released last spring by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policies, which dubbed the coming retirement of baby boomers the “silver tsunami.”

That study also sounded the alarm over the implications of an aging workforce combined with an exodus of young adults and a decline in the migration of 30- to 40-year-olds into the state to fill jobs and raise families.

The Carsey report, “New Hampshire Demographic Trends in the Twenty-First Century,” examined the change in migration patterns in great detail.

Between 2001 and 2004, for example, 127,900 people moved into the state while 111,800 left. Based on the aggregate household income of both groups, the study found the net gain of 16,100 residents equaled a net increase of $1.05 billion in income for the state.

But between 2007 and 2010, the state experienced a net migration loss of 5,500 people, which translated into a much smaller income gain of $46 million, a fraction of what occurred in the decade’s initial three years.

So what does this all mean?

Basically, it means New Hampshire is in the midst of a significant change and, as such, it’s incumbent on our government, businesses and institutions to recognize that and pursue policies accordingly.

If these trends are allowed to continue – especially an explosion of retirees with not enough younger people here to replace them – the New Hampshire advantage could very well be at risk.