In a recent op-ed, House Speaker William O’Brien and Ways and Means Chair Stephen Stepanek claimed that the Republican state budget has driven down the unemployment rate in New Hampshire. Looking solely at the change between September and November is disingenuous, at best. To assess fairly the data on unemployment, it’s necessary to look both at a longer period of time and also evaluate our performance vs. surrounding states. On both measures, the Republican leadership’s bragging doesn’t add up.
Under Democratic Leadership and Governor Lynch, unemployment went on a 16-month decline from January, 2010 – May, 2011. By January of 2010, the state had already recovered more than half the jobs lost in the Great Recession and was out-performing its neighbors. According to the US Dept. of Labor, under Democratic leadership, New Hampshire had the second fastest job growth in the nation.
Things sure have changed. Unemployment has actually risen in New Hampshire since the Republican budget took effect. In June of this year, while still under a Democratic budget, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate was 4.9%, approaching half a percentage point lower than it is now. That’s right: in the six months since the Republican budget took effect, unemployment in New Hampshire has gone up!
Furthermore, the jobs lost under the radical Republican budget are mainly private sector jobs, including at least 1,000 health care jobs. In their zeal for spending cuts, the Republican budget has in reality had a devastating effect on the private sector. Even the normally conservative Business and Industry Association agrees the $250 Million cut in hospital funding was a bad move and expects that, in addition to the loss of at least 1,000 good-paying jobs, the budget’s attack on hospitals will lead directly to higher health insurance costs for businesses and individuals. The irresponsible decision to slash hospital funding is actually a tax increase on health care providers that has led to a recalculation of their tax base and a potential loss of $50 Million in state revenues.
Beyond unemployment actually going up under the Republican budget, the recent good news of a tenth of a percent drop in the unemployment rate indicates that New Hampshire is underperforming its neighbors and the US average. During the same period that Reps. O’Brien and Stepanek are crowing about a 0.1% drop in unemployment, unemployment in our bordering states of Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont all dropped by 0.3%, and the US unemployment rate fell by 0.4%.
In addition to the irresponsible slashing of health care funding that led to job losses and early retirements, the Republican budget also cut $90 million out of the Highway Fund. This is money that would have been spent on highway projects over the next two years, creating many construction jobs. At the same time that the Republicans were making decisions that have been disastrous for the health care and construction employment sectors, they were insisting that the cigarette tax be cut 10 cents a pack. The terrible result of that decision that was forecast has indeed come to pass: Cigarette companies raised their prices to make up the difference, the retail price did not decline, but the state’s tobacco revenues are off millions over the last few months.
We all want to see New Hampshire’s economy prosper and grow. But to do that, legislators need to make responsible budget decisions and policy initiatives, rather than caving in to special interests. Speaker O’Brien and Rep. Stepanek’s claim that the Republican budget has succeeded in lowering unemployment just isn’t supported by the numbers so far. Granite Staters deserve a better answer than just political spin.
In the meantime, many families in New Hampshire are suffering from a long term lack of unemployment, including a mother of five, whose husband has been out of work for a year and a half. This mother was able, only through the generosity of coworkers, to buy a Christmas tree and new shoes to replace the boys’ sneakers that had holes. This New Hampshire resident’s husband finally has a good job prospect, but, ironically, it’s in another state. Surely we can expect better opportunities at home.