In the nine-plus months since COVID-19’s torrent upending of everyday life, Michael Polizotti, a policy analyst at the N.H. Fiscal Policy Institute (NHFPI), has concluded that, despite the economic recession induced by the coronavirus, the ability to draw comparisons between the current state of local economies and other eras of financial turmoil isn’t simply apples to apples.
“Some of the most acute economic and health impacts have thus far been concentrated among more vulnerable groups of individuals and families,” Polizotti wrote in an email interview. “Workers employed in many lower-wage services-based industries have experienced higher levels of job loss across the state. However, unlike a traditional recession, there has not been a consistent decline among all industries, places or combination of those two factors.”
Rounding the corner into the New Year and approaching one year since COVID-19’s known landfall in the United States, the state of local economies in New Hampshire largely differs one from another and doesn’t entirely mirror the impacts of recessions past. This factor makes predicting the outlook of the economy’s future outlook a difficult one.
“This recession is not like the Great Recession [which lasted from late 2007 to mid-2009], resulting in the experience in that recession and the following recovery potentially not being an accurate guide to what will happen in this crisis and its aftermath,” Polizotti says.
Data indicate the greatest levels of job loss occurred in the months ensuing from Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay-at-home announcement, one which began on Mar. 27, 2020, 16 days after the World Health Organization’s classification of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, and saw restrictions soften toward nonessential businesses through the spring until mid-June.
“We can’t stress this enough — you should stay at your house unless absolutely necessary. Of course, we won’t prevent you from leaving your home to go for a walk, or when heading to the store for groceries, or going to an essential job,” Gov. Sununu wrote on Twitter in a thread from Mar. 26, 2020, announcing the initial stay-at-home order.
Since then, however, an overwhelming majority of municipalities have seen a rebound in the employment realm.
Figures released by the N.H. Employment Services (NHES) office on Christmas Eve show that the state unemployment rate for November 2020 sat at 3.5 percent, a stark contrast to the unemployment numbers from shutdown/shut-in spring Granite Staters endured: a whopping 17.2 percent unemployment rate in April, followed by 15.3 percent unemployment and 9.1 percent unemployment in May and June, respectively.
Furthermore, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate sat several percentage points lower than the national average, which stood at 6.7 percent, per the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics report on Dec. 4, 2020.
NHES local statistics showed Keene (3 percent) and Peterborough (3.2 percent) running south of the statewide November unemployment rate. Crossing state lines, Brattleboro registered a lower percentage than New Hampshire’s unemployment, as the Vermont Department of Labor registered the town as having a 3.4 percent unemployment rate. However, that number was a few ticks higher than Vermont’s statewide unemployment average for the month (3.1 percent) that was announced on Dec. 18, 2020.
The NHFPI released a report in early September examining challenges New Hampshire’s economy and workforce hold due to the coronavirus, stating that, as a result of the pandemic, workers of marginalized backgrounds throughout America face a steeper battle toward economic recovery than other identity groups.
“This disproportionate concentration is partially reflected through higher national unemployment rates among certain groups, including Black or Hispanic individuals,” NHFPI wrote, adding that statistics recorded from April to June show “about 58 percent of the people unemployed in New Hampshire were women.”
A deeper dive by NHFPI into the state’s workforce showed that from Mar. 15 to Aug. 22, 2020, the largest unemployment spike occurred within the food services and drinking places industry, which recorded 25,986 unemployment claims in that time.
“The average weekly wage among workers in this industry was only about $419, compared to the statewide 2019 public and private sector average weekly wage of about $1,128,” NHFPI found.
The coronavirus’ economic and employment impacts varied in each of New Hampshire’s 10 counties, NHFPI also noted, and were not “uniformly distributed.” New Hampshire’s northern and western regions, they wrote, saw peak unemployment levels among tourism industries in the spring.
“Given the economic differences between New Hampshire’s counties, along with the differing compositions of employment within each county, some regions of the state may have been more intensely impacted than others,” the report says.
County-level unemployment rates compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the NHES team show Coos County to have the highest levels of unemployment between February and June 2020, with data recorded at two-month intervals. Cheshire County boasted a 3.1 percent unemployment rate in February before the pandemic struck, followed by 14.8 percent in April and 8.2 percent in June. Hillsborough County held a 3.2 percent unemployment rate in February, which was bumped up to 17.2 percent in April before decreasing to 9.4 percent in June.
The third quarter Yelp Economic Average report, which recorded data through Sep. 30, 2020, showed New Hampshire’s business reopening rate, largely comprising restaurants and retail businesses, from April to May at 78 percent.
However, from May to June, New Hampshire saw a roughly 47 percent decrease in business reopenings due to COVID-19, Yelp discovered. On Aug. 15, WMUR reported that, in speaking with Yelp officials, 449 New Hampshire businesses temporarily or permanently closed down between Mar. 1 and Jul. 10.
These nuances, Polizotti says, make it difficult to pin down the markings of an average local economy ravaged by COVID-19. In 2021 and beyond, however, recovery from the pandemic will likely look increasingly similar in many industries through municipalities statewide.
“Relative to the economic rebound, the post-COVID-19 crisis economy may involve a different geographic distribution of employment and housing for workers, as more work may continue to be conducted remotely compared to prior to the pandemic,” he notes. “This may potentially create more opportunity for certain regions of the state, depending on future employment and labor market trends.”