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The XX factor
Women find new strength in numbers on Keene council

In his inaugural address Wednesday afternoon, Keene Mayor George S. Hansel commended all of November’s candidates for one of the most contested elections in recent memory. He thanked the city councilors and residents for their passion and fervor.

He also pointed out another notable facet of the race: It left the City Council with its highest number of female members in many years.

Incumbents Kate M. Bosley and Bettina A. Chadbourne kept their seats, while newcomers Catherine I. “Catt” Workman and Gladys Johnsen joined the ranks. Janis O. Manwaring’s seat was not up for election, bringing the number of women to five out of the council’s 15 members. With Hansel’s committee appointments, women are also chairing two of the council’s three standing panels.

Before this election, there were three women on the council. The last time a third of Keene’s elected officials were female was in 2009, according to city records, and there haven’t been more than five on the council since the mid-1990s.

While this is a significant moment, Hansel said, the council isn’t yet a close reflection of the community.

“As our city grows and becomes more diverse, we need to work extra hard to invite representatives of that diversity to the table,” he said.

Varied perspectives

In a group interview Thursday evening, four of the female councilors discussed the reasons why such representation matters to the community. Johnsen, who served eight years in the N.H. House, was unable to attend the interview.

Manwaring, 72, is beginning her 11th year as a Ward 1 councilor. Over time, she’s become a strong advocate for her ward as well as a voice for senior citizens across Keene, who she said will soon make up nearly a third of the area’s population.

Bosley, 41, said she stressed to the public and the council when she was running that her demographic wasn’t being represented, and as a mother of young children who owns a business, she felt she was uniquely positioned to join the council. Bosley was chosen by councilors to fill a vacancy in August and was elected to an at-large seat in November.

As a single, young professional, Workman, 36, said she’s learning how to juggle her career with her elected office. She expanded on that in a brief follow-up and said she hopes to remind people through her service that success isn’t measured by whether a woman has a partner or children. Workman was elected to a two-year term as Ward 4 councilor.

Just re-elected as an at-large councilor, Chadbourne, 60, began as a minute-taker with the city, listening to council meetings while also hearing concerns from her neighbors. When she was elected to serve Ward 2 in 2012, she said her goal was always to be a voice at the table for her constituents, not necessarily focusing on a particular demographic. Chadbourne became an at-large councilor in 2016, representing all Keene residents.

While noting the council could benefit from more racial diversity, Workman said the range of age, socioeconomic status and background among the five women is astounding.

“When I read all our bios, I was like, ‘I am proud to be serving with these women,’ ” Workman said.

Manwaring said she was excited to see a younger generation stepping up to the plate.

And Chadbourne pointed out that the wave was part of a nationwide trend of more women entering politics.

Across the country, the 2018 midterm elections resulted in record-breaking numbers of women filing for office, winning primaries and, in the case of the U.S. House and Senate, serving. That November brought other historic milestones, too, such as the election of the first Muslim and Native American women to Congress.

The 2020 presidential race also kicked off with six female candidates, marking the first time more than two women competed in the same major party’s primary process, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

In Keene, both Chadbourne and Manwaring said this surge led to more women throwing their hats in the ring, as in other places. The council’s relative lack of female representation hasn’t been because women were being defeated at the polls, they said, but because fewer of them ran in past years.

Bosley suggested that discussions like this, coupled with political shifts across the country, might help move the needle.

“Us sitting here today saying that it’s possible, that you will be welcomed and embraced, might encourage one person [to run],” she said.

Aside from the council, Chadbourne said the city staff also has several strong female leaders who inspire women to work in public service. Chadbourne and her colleagues named a few: City Manager Elizabeth Dragon, Finance Director Merri Howe, City Clerk Patricia Little, and assistant city managers Rebecca Landry and Elizabeth Fox, who serve as the information technology director and human resources director, respectively.

Bosley said she was initially concerned that being a woman might hinder her chances of being elected, but she realized quickly that councilors and constituents alike embraced her for the population she represented.

“... In the community, I think you saw it reflected in the vote counts that our women were the top vote-getters,” she said, referring to herself and Chadbourne, who came in first and second place, respectively, in the at-large race. “It’s kind of amazing that the city said, ‘We want strong women to stand up and represent us.’ ”

Having more women in public office can also be beneficial to voters, the councilors said.

Women can be perceived as more approachable, Workman offered, and some people might feel more at ease speaking with one of them about a sensitive concern.

Bosley said she, too, feels more comfortable surrounded by her peers. Seeking advice and input from someone with a shared experience, Chadbourne was the first councilor Bosley contacted before her campaign. Now that the group of women has grown, she said, it’s likely to encourage more to run in future elections.

During the previous council session, the three female councilors (Chadbourne, Manwaring and Margaret M. “Maggie” Rice, succeeded by Bosley) were split evenly among the three standing committees: finance, organization and personnel; municipal services, facilities and infrastructure; and planning, licenses and development.

Chadbourne said that arrangement had its advantages and allowed a woman’s voice to be present on each committee, which is where the councilors conduct the bulk of their work.

The setup also bucked any potential perception that a particular committee could be seen as “too difficult” for a woman, Manwaring added.

Keene’s mayor appoints committee membership, and under Hansel, the committees have been shuffled around: Chadbourne moved from finance to municipal services, where Manwaring maintained her role as chairwoman. Bosley was named chairwoman of the planning committee, with Johnsen and Workman at her side.

Though this leaves the finance committee without a female presence, Bosley said having two chairwomen is exciting. The majority of the planning committee will be women, which will be a new dynamic for the elected officials.

Not yet a new normal

Workman said it’s vital that all demographics, including women, are represented strongly in local government to show “that it is possible, it’s doable. Whatever barriers someone thinks that they may face, you can overcome them.”

The council can seem intimidating, Bosley said, but increasing diversity provides residents more access to local government when they see their peers in leadership positions. It’s a cycle, she explained, that invites more people to participate once they realize “we’re not really intimidating, we’re just your neighbors.”

The women recalled Wednesday’s inauguration, when Bosley’s 7-year-old daughter, Lilah Henderson, hopped up in her mother’s council seat. Bosley asked if her daughter planned to join the council someday, and Lilah answered, “No, I’m gonna run for mayor.”

Workman said that’s a perfect example of the vital importance of representation, and Bosley agreed that she’s prioritized sharing this experience with her children. From the clerk’s office when she filed her declaration of candidacy to the polls on voting day, Bosley brought her kids along throughout the process. She’s also tried to teach the value of giving back to their community, even when it might be easier to stay home and skip a council meeting.

There was a consensus throughout the interview that, on one hand, electing more women should be celebrated. But the councilors also lamented that the fact needs to be pointed out, which runs counter to the idea of normalizing their service.

“Rather than it being an anomaly that we have to write an article about,” Bosley said, “I would like it just to be, ‘Oh, well of course, women are on council and doing all sorts of other wonderful things.’ ”

Manwaring added: “After all, they generally don’t say that about the men.”

Minimum wage increases fueling faster wage growth for those at the bottom

The United States’ lowest-paid workers are seeing their paychecks rise at the fastest pace in more than a decade.

Slow wage growth has plagued the economy ever since jobs started coming back after the Great Recession. But that has been changing, with wages rising at all levels and especially for those at the bottom.

The Trump White House and Washington policymakers have touted the tight labor market as the main engine driving gains for the working class, but a Washington Post analysis of Labor Department data suggests that paychecks also grew because of a nationwide movement of rising minimum wages in various states and cities over the past couple of years.

Last week, Gary Cohn, former director of President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council, and Kevin Hassett, former chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed making the case that Trump’s tax cuts paved the way for rising wages for those in lower-paying jobs.

The November unemployment rate was at its lowest since 1969, at 3.5 percent, according to the Labor Department. Competition for workers at all levels, including low-skilled ones, has intensified. But can it really be a coincidence that the boom in wage growth came at a time when around half the states raised their minimum wage? The data suggest that changes to minimum wage laws also played a role.

In the past week, minimum wages have risen in more than 20 states. Many of them are the result of increases that have been implemented in phases over the past few years, or indexed to inflation. Nearly 7 million workers began 2020 with higher wages, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. This past week, New Mexico’s wage floor rose from $7.50 an hour to $9, and Washington state’s rose from $12 to $13.50.

Ernie Tedeschi, head of fiscal analysis at Evercore ISI, calculates that state and local policies pushed the country’s “effective” minimum wage rate to its highest rate ever. Tedeschi finds that an average hour of work subject to a minimum wage was about $11.80 in 2019.

A hot labor market helps, but policies that increase the minimum wage are a “really meaningful part of wage growth for low-wage workers,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “That is absolutely, undeniably true.”

Sure enough, the data suggest that people are not just getting paid more because there is more competition for their services. They are getting paid more because laws now require employers to pay them more.

When you break those low-wage workers into two groups — those who live in states that have raised their minimum wage in the past three years and those in states that have not — the relationship between policy changes and wage gains becomes clearer. The Post’s analysis of Labor Department data shows that before 2016, wages for lower-paid workers rose across the country at more or less the same pace. In 2017, things began to change. Wage growth in states that increased minimum wages began to accelerate.

Over the past year, paychecks for those in the bottom 25 percent of the workforce grew almost 1.5 times as fast as those in states where the minimum wage did not budge. Also, workers age 20 and under fare better in states that raised the minimum wage.

To be sure, the wage increases appear concentrated among those who already have a job. That is a group that typically sees the benefits of minimum wage increases first, research has shown. Also, the data do not show the same kind of accelerated benefits for the growing group of workers who are returning to the workforce after waiting on the sidelines for years.

But the influence of a higher minimum wage on low-wage workers is clear, economists say, even if its magnitude can be hard to measure.

“This suggests that the minimum wage has been a factor, though not the primary factor, behind wage growth at the lower end,” said economist Jeffrey Clemens of the University of California at San Diego, who has been more skeptical of the benefits of a higher minimum wage than some of his peers.

By contrast, wages for most workers do not reflect the same pattern. The other 75 percent of the workforce didn’t see pay hikes to the same degree, even in states where minimum wage increased. That reinforces the idea that rising minimum wages are the main reason that low-wage workers are doing better, as opposed to other forces.

“There are some very strong signals that minimum wages are in fact actually raising wages more for people at the bottom than you would expect just on tightening labor markets,” said the Economic Policy Institute’s Ben Zipperer, whose research on the effects of minimum wages has been widely cited.

And these paycheck pops for the poor are not happening only in urban, coastal enclaves. Consider Arkansas, where last year voters approved a plan to steadily hike the state minimum wage until it hits $11 an hour in 2021. Over the past three months, the state’s workers have seen the fastest wage growth of any state in the union.

And the move was popular. In 2018, the Arkansas ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage won 68 percent of the vote in an election where Republicans swept all the other key races. The wage hike was controversial, as Arkansas business owners worried about the labor costs associated with paying employees more and warned of job losses.

But that didn’t happen. In November, the Arkansas unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, down from 3.7 percent a year earlier.

Liberals in that state celebrated the success of the law, which first went into effect last year.

“To the extent we are seeing wage growth at the bottom, I would attribute that to state and local policies,” said Bruno Showers, senior policy analyst at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Arkansas’ minimum wage jumped a second time Wednesday, going to $10 an hour from $9.25 in 2019. That means the state’s low-wage workers, along with millions of others across the country, can count on a decent raise in 2020.

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Alyson's Orchard listed for $3.2 million

WALPOLE — Alyson’s Orchard, a popular pick-your-own destination and wedding venue, is on the market.

Offering more than three dozen apple varieties, as well as peaches, plums, pears and blueberries, the orchard off Route 12 was listed for sale Thursday on Verani Realty’s website.

The listing says the property includes a farm stand, event center, lodging houses and the Frank D. Comerford Field, a private airport with a 1,300-foot runway.

With more than 350 acres — 50 of which have fruit-bearing trees, according to the orchard’s website — the property is listed for $3.2 million.

The orchard’s owner, Susan Jasse of Walpole, said she’s selling the property because she’s looking to retire.

She and her late husband, Bob Jasse, established Alyson’s Orchard together in the 1980s, the business’ website says.

The listing pitches that the property could continue to be used as a commercial orchard, or as an estate or “gentleman farm retreat.” It also notes its development potential.

Jasse said her hope is that someone who knows and loves the orchard, or might otherwise appreciate its role in the community, will buy it and keep it running. It’s a special place that’s pivotal in the “buy local” movement, she said.

“I’m very much looking forward to it going on as usual and remaining a great place to have weddings and events and beautiful fruit to pick,” Jasse said. “I feel like we’re an asset to the whole area.”

Jasse said Saturday that putting the orchard on the market will not affect any wedding bookings. With weddings scheduled through this and next year, Jasse said her plan is to negotiate with any potential buyer that these contracts be honored.

This article has been updated to include information about wedding bookings.