Does the Granite State have a “Golden Girls” problem? Is New Hampshire America’s “Matlock” state?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Vintage 2022 Population Estimates, New Hampshire now has the second-oldest median population in America (44.3 years). Maine took the top spot on the senior citizen circuit with a median age of 44.8 years. That’s nearly six years older than the U.S. median age of 38.9 years.
According to the Census data, almost every state saw an increase in its median age. None saw a decline. Seventeen states had a median age over 40 in 2022.
The 2020 Census found that while the Granite State’s population grew 4.6 percent over the last decade, there was a 10.6 percent decrease in its under-18 population. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 2021 New Hampshire had the fourth-lowest 0 to 18 age population (19.8 percent) and the third-lowest 19 to 25 population (7.6 percent) in the country.
It doesn’t help that New Hampshire also has one of the lowest birth rates in the country, coupled with a 65-and-older age group that makes up 20.2 percent of its total population (compared to 16.8 percent nationally).
Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), identified the crux of the problem. “It means that a huge number of people who are born and raised in New Hampshire are leaving as young people, and other adults, typically at an older phase of life, are moving in,” Moore told NHJournal. “That explains why our aging numbers appear as high as they do; we’re trading 18 and 22-year-olds for people aged 35 to 45.”
One reason for the exodus of younger workers is that many of the state’s biggest problems hit 18 to 25-year-olds the hardest.
For example, according to Education Data Initiative, New Hampshire has the second-highest average yearly in-state college tuition and fees in the nation ($16,749). The total cost for in-state students at a public four-year college or university in New Hampshire is an average of $29,222, which is 36.95 percent higher than the national average.
Once New Hampshire students graduate and look to settle, they then face a housing crisis. In May 2023, the New Hampshire Association of Realtors found housing affordability in the state hit its lowest point ever, while median prices for single-family homes reached a record high of $465,000.
Meanwhile, rent in New Hampshire has increased by 35 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth-highest increase seen across the country, according to Apartment List and U.S. News & World Report. Those costs disproportionately hurt young individuals and families just starting out – all while the state continues to struggle to build affordable housing to meet demand.
Drew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, had one word for what needs to change: “Zoning.” Local zoning regulations make building residential housing in the state extremely difficult.
So, if young families can’t find affordable housing, they will move elsewhere. AFP’s Moore echoed the need to address affordable housing to keep young people in the Granite State. “First and foremost, that requires two things – good jobs for people early in their careers and housing that gives them a chance to buy a home at an affordable price,” Moore said. “We’ve been taking steps to strengthen our economy, and now we need to free up property rights so that we can build more homes.”
Energy costs are also expensive. Analysis by WalletHub found Granite Staters pay the ninth-highest out-of-pocket energy expenses in the nation.
Assuming they can find and purchase a home and pay for utilities, young families are then burdened by high property taxes. New Hampshire consistently has the third or fourth-highest property taxes in the country. With an effective property tax rate of around 2 percent, the median total paid out by property owners annually is just north of $6,000.
Michael Skelton, president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association, highlighted the policy work necessary to combat this trend. “BIA successfully supported increased investments in workforce housing development and the university and community college systems to help retain the state’s younger residents and attract other young professionals,” Skelton told NHJournal. “BIA also advocated for additional funding to make child care more affordable and accessible for parents, helping them join and stay in the workforce.”
New Hampshire’s business and economic experts above agree the aging trend isn’t irreversible. By making progress on any of these fronts, the state can start chipping away at the issue and working toward retaining and attracting younger populations to the Granite State.