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Granite Staters Have High Credit Scores and Low Unemployment

Two new reports show Granite Staters are on solid financial footing heading into the holidays compared to the rest of the U.S.

New Hampshire residents have the second highest credit scores on average in the nation according to a data analysis by Wallethub. At the same time, the labor market is improving, with New Hampshire experiencing one of the biggest week-to-week drops in new unemployment claims.

Frugal Yankees in New Hampshire hold an average 719 credit score, second only to Minnesota’s 724, Wallethub reports. The national average is 695, which means most Americans are just below the 700-score considered good credit, according to WalletHub’s findings.

Vermont, Massachusetts, and South Dakota round out the top five with average scores above 700. Alabama at 672, Louisiana at 668, and Mississippi at 662 are the three states with the worst average credit scores.

Patrick A. Cozza, who teaches business at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said the best way to build good credit is to pay your bills on time. Minimizing the use of credit cards is important as well.

“The simple answer again is to manage only the debt you can handle, do not overly subscribe to credit by securing additional credit cards,” Cozza said. “People feel more is better than few, but it could lead to real credit problems down the road if you cannot effectively manage the debt.”

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with business closures and high unemployment rates, put a lot of people into debt. Those who used credit cards to get by during the pandemic can dig their way out of debt and toward a better credit score, Cozza said.

W.H. “Joe” Knight at Seattle University School of Law said it is important to pay down debt and build savings.

“More Americans are saving more these days because of the fewer opportunities to shop, eat out, etc. Accumulate savings and apply some of those extra ‘saved dollars’ to the largest interest-charging creditor bills,” Knight said. “Slow but sure progress to improving a credit score, reducing the total amount of credit you have outstanding.”

New Hampshire residents are keeping up with their bills, and they are working. The Granite State keeps seeing unemployment rates drop, behind only Kentucky for the most recent unemployment rate report.

The labor market is still experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are more opportunities being created, according to Thomas Kohler at Boston College Law School.

“A large number of Baby Boomers left the workforce during the pandemic while other workers changed jobs, a good example being the hospitality industry,” Kohler said.

With more opportunities for willing workers, the pressure is on employers. Employers who want to find and keep workers have learned they need to increase pay and benefits, given the new realities of the labor market.

“I think it will take some time for the situation to become clearer, but it seems increasingly clear that people are unwilling to perform unpleasant work at poor rates of remuneration with no voice in their working conditions. Hardly surprising, I would say,” Kohler said.

New Hampshire’s 2.4 percent unemployment rate in October was well below the national average of 3.7 percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it was not the lowest in the nation. That honor went to Minnesota and Utah at 2.1 percent each. Vermont and North Dakota at 2.3 percent also edged out the Granite State. Those numbers reflect a tight labor market that some economists say could restrict growth.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, New Hampshire is suffering one of the most severe labor shortages in the nation, with just 44 unemployed workers for every 100 open jobs.

However, Jeffrey Arthur, a Professor of Management at Virginia Tech, said while employees have the upper hand now, the economic tide will turn to favor employers.

“Employees are more likely to feel empowered to form and join labor unions at places like Amazon, Starbucks, and other retailers where they have not been able to do this in the past. Employers are also motivated to provide employees with additional benefits such as tuition reimbursement and flexible work arrangements in order to attract and retain them,” Arthur said. “These changes may be short-lived, however. If the economy slows and unemployment increases, I expect to see the balance of power tilting back to employers. These cycles have happened in the past.”

Amid Shortages, Hassan Pushes Debunked ‘Big Tampon’ Theory

First “Big Pharma.” Then “Big Oil.” Now…”Big Tampon?”

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan sent a press release headlined, “Following Reports of Tampon Shortage, Senator Hassan Calls on Major Tampon Producers to Increase Supply.” It’s part of her “work to hold corporations accountable for unfair price increases and address shortages.”

Except, like her allegations about oil companies manipulating gas prices, Hassan’s claim of price-gouging by the feminine hygiene industry is unfounded.

“Access to menstrual products should be treated like every other essential good. At the beginning of the pandemic, price gouging of essentials like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer was rightly criticized as an exploitation of an emergency for financial gain. Menstrual products should receive that same consideration,” Hassan wrote in a letter to the CEOs of Procter & Gamble, Edgewell Personal Care, Kimberly-Clark, and Johnson & Johnson.

Hassan’s accusation of “unfair price increases” does not appear to be supported by the facts. Instead, “supply chain issues and historically high inflation have affected all manner of goods,” Axios reports, including tampons. COVID drove up demand for plastic and cotton to make personal protective equipment, both key materials for making feminine hygiene products.

And, like much of the shortages seen over the past couple of years, COVID-related supply chain issues are having an impact as well. Shipping costs to move material and products have also gone up as diesel fuel prices continue to climb. Add to that the ongoing labor shortage many companies are experiencing.

Then there is the impact of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, constraining the normal supply of fertilizer used to grow cotton, further exacerbating supply issues. The price of raw cotton is up more than 70 percent.

And there is another twist Hassan doesn’t mention: Amy Schumer.

Procter and Gamble spokeswoman Cheri McMaster told Time that part of the blame belongs to comic Amy Schumer. She stars in a series of commercials for their products that have been wildly successful. “(R)etail sales growth has exploded,” McMaster told Time.

As the demand went up more than 7 percent, Procter and Gamble started running its Maine plant 24/7 to try and keep up. The industry says it is looking for ways to increase production.

“While the tampon shortage is part of a larger supply chain issue, price-gouging essential products is an unacceptable response,” Hassan said — without providing any effort of gouging.

“We understand it is frustrating for consumers when they can’t find what they need,” a P&G spokesperson told CNN. “We can assure you this is a temporary situation.”

In her tampon shortage press release, Hassan also pointed out she “led legislation to require a federal investigation into reports that Big Oil was artificially raising gas prices, and follows Senator Hassan’s previous calls for additional actions and updates regarding the FTC’s oversight of anti-consumer trade practices in the oil and gas industry.”

Hassan’s claim that oil companies have manipulated gas prices has been repeatedly investigated and dismissed by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Political observers say what’s really at play is giving Hassan another way to motivate women voters, particularly young women who tend to vote Democrat and also tend not to show up in midterm elections. Hassan had campaigned aggressively on the abortion issue, which she refers to as a “women’s health” issue, advocating abortion without limits up to the time of birth.

Interestingly, one word that doesn’t appear anywhere in Hassan’s “tampon shortage” letter or press release?

“Women.”

(To be fair, the progressive phrase “people who menstruate” didn’t appear, either.)

Hassan said she is giving the CEOs of personal hygiene manufacturers until June 17 to come up with a solution.

Voters are giving Hassan until Election Day.

REPORT: Granite State’s Economy Fifth Best in Nation

New Hampshire has one of the strongest state economies in the country, with high rates of high-tech jobs, low unemployment, and a GDP growth rate that outperforms California, according to a new data analysis from WalletHub. 

The report, which looked at how each state’s economy has fared since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic recession, ranks the Granite State as the fifth-best economy in America, behind Washington state, Utah, California, and Massachusetts.

New Hampshire easily outperforms the remaining New England states, with Connecticut coming in at 25, Rhode Island at 36, Vermont at 41, and Maine trailing at number 44.

However, according to experts, New Hampshire could be headed toward a recession as runaway inflation continues to drive up the price of energy, housing, and other needs.

New Hampshire comes in second, behind Tennessee and ahead of California, when it comes to positive change in gross domestic product or GDP. It is tied for first with Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota for the lowest unemployment rate. It is fifth when it comes to having the highest number of immigrants with advanced educations, and is fourth in the percentage of high-tech jobs.

Gov. Chris Sununu said the overall picture is good, but warned there are negative forces outside New Hampshire’s control that could be a problem.

“We’ve taken steps over these last few years to ensure that New Hampshire’s economy remains strong,” Sununu said. “But given Washington’s inaction in combating inflation and out-of-control spending, an economic downturn is on the horizon, and we are doing everything we can at the state level to minimize the impact on our citizens.” 

One expert interviewed by WalletHub, Robert Wyllie, Assistant Professor of Political Science ad Director of Political Economy Program at Ashland University in Ohio, said the country as a whole should be concerned about a potential recession and inflation getting worse. He said we could see a return to the 1970s.

“High inflation, fueled in part by high energy prices, combined with slow growth points has drawn many comparisons to the 1970s,” Wyllie said.

A recent University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy report warned of a stagnating economy. New Hampshire’s economy needs state and federal leaders to address roadblocks that come up as the world economy tries to move past COVID.

“As the state, nation, and world hopefully emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic carnage it created, New Hampshire is, to some extent, subject to economic forces beyond its control,” the report states.

The state’s many long-term challenges include the housing shortage, the shrinking labor force, the need for childcare, and infrastructure investments.

“New Hampshire has many economic advantages that position it well as it seeks to address the challenges of wage stagnation, childcare shortages, educational inequity, an aging workforce, housing affordability, struggling families, and C- infrastructure,” the UNH report states. “It has a strong and diverse economic base from which to grow, and its workforce is well-educated. With foresight and will, New Hampshire can chart a course to a productive, prosperous economy that addresses these challenges and enhances the well-being of all who live here.”

However, New Hampshire has also repeatedly been ranked near the top of the “Freedom Index” by multiple sources, due to its low tax and low regulation environment. And that could be both a reason its economy is overperforming today and has a brighter future tomorrow.

In the Wallethub report, Vincent Gloss, assistant professor of economics at George Mason University argued that “economic freedom (i.e. lower regulation, lower taxes and lower spending, safer property rights) does not only minimize downturns associated with exogenous shocks such as a pandemic, but it also accelerates recovery. Governments should look at policies that allow firms and families more flexibility in their decisions and that means stepping back.”

Despite Airlifts, NH Baby Formula Shortage Expected to Last Into Summer

A shuttered baby formula plant and protectionist trade policies are responsible for the current baby formula shortage, experts say. But incumbent politicians are likely to pay the price for it.

President Joe Biden hit a new low in the most recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research poll, with just 39 percent approval.

“The findings reflect a widespread sense of exasperation in a country facing a cascade of challenges ranging from inflationgun violence, and a sudden shortage of baby formula to a persistent pandemic,” according to the AP. Biden’s approval among Democrats — typically 85 percent or higher for an incumbent president within his own party — has fallen to just 72 percent. And many political observers say the panic over baby formula is contributing to concern, even among Democrats, that the Biden presidency is in over its head.

As a result, more Democrats are acting on their own. Rather than defending the White House, New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan joined a group of 32 senators urging the Biden administration to act. “It is absolutely unacceptable that families are struggling to meet the most basic needs of their children, and we urge you to do everything you can to quickly address the crisis— and ensure this type of shortage never happens again,” they wrote.

The administration responded by invoking the Defense Production Act. However, that merely makes the baby formula industry a priority customer, it does not create more ingredients or products.

A major cause of the crisis came from the Food and Drug Administration’s mishandling of reports of four consumer complaints of Cronobacter contamination. In response to the FDA inquiry, Abbott stopped production at its biggest factory, taking about 20 percent of the nation’s formula out of the supply chain.

On Sunday, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese defended the administration’s actions. “The FDA did what it was supposed to do, which was assess safety and shut down a facility in the United States,” Deese said.

However, according to The Wall Street Journal, “the four cases of Cronobacter sakazakii infection in infants that the government cited could not be traced to the factory’s products. No contaminated baby formula was found; Cronobacter was identified on the factory grounds but lacked a genetic match to samples from affected infants.”

Now the Biden FDA has entered a consent decree with Abbott to get the factory back online. But even if the plant gets up in running in the next two weeks, it could be six to eight weeks before the baby formula reaches store shelves, according to the company.

Democrats are touting 78,000 pounds of formula flown from Europe by the U.S. military that landed in Indiana on Sunday, part of Biden’s “Operation Fly Formula.” That represents just a fraction of the approximately $4 billion U.S. baby formula market.

And none of these efforts address the trade regulations and government subsidies that have warped the baby formula market and contributed to the shortage.

The market was floundering before the February recall. The U. S. makes 98 percent of the baby formula it consumes thanks to strict regulation and trade policies that keep European and Canadian formula from getting to the market. Tariffs also make baby formula ingredients too expensive for American manufacturers to import.

According to trade expert Scott Lincicome, the trade agreement pushed by President Donald Trump blocks Canadian formula from getting into the U.S. and kept the Canadian industry from growing.

“Because USMCA effectively capped possible exports of infant formula to the United States, it discouraged investment in new Canadian capacity—capacity that we sure could use right now,” Lincicome wrote.

Add the cumbersome regulatory scheme to the COVID economy with labor shortages and rising prices, and the shortage seems inevitable once the recall went into effect.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last week that the Biden administration is already asking embassies worldwide to help during the shortage. Importantly, she said the FDA will now allow foreign companies to apply to supply baby formula to the U.S. market, but only with approval subject to the drug regulator’s safety standards. It was not clear how long the approval process will take.

Lincicome writes the FDA has kept safe and commonly-used European baby formula produced in the Netherlands, France, Ireland, and Germany from reaching the U.S. over a labeling issue. Many American parents prefer the European formula, and this has created a black market for baby food.

“Yet, when parents here have tried to import European formula, it’s been routinely subject to seizure by the FDA. In fact, formula made by two of the most popular European brands—HiPP and Holle—is on the FDA’s red list and thus only arrives here via unofficial, third party channels,” according to Lincicome.

More than half of the baby formula bought in the U.S. is bought by the government for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program, also known as WIC. Through WIC, manufacturers sell their products to state governments at steep discounts, and the formula is essentially resold to poor families.

That has resulted in companies being untouched by the regular laws of supply and demand. Prices have continued to go up over the rate of inflation, and the market is not sensitive to changes that would normally trigger more production.

Dr. Erik Shessler, a pediatrician at Dartmouth Health Children’s and president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said families should not panic. So far, New Hampshire parents can still find formula even if they must scramble.

“I am not aware of any local emergencies,” he said.

Shessler said most infants can switch between baby formula brands without too much trouble.

“Most formula companies have the same options for classes or kinds of formulas. For example, most have a regular cow milk-based as well as a cow milk-based but lactose-free and soy formula. Most infants will be able to switch between companies as long as we stay in the same class or kind,” he said.

Families that are having trouble finding what they need should contact their healthcare provider and pediatrician, he said.