I was watching the debate between Governor Sununu and Senator Kelly and realized the depths of our problem, when neither could answer a question about where to get workers for regular jobs. The context given was the recent closing of a Portsmouth restaurant due to a lack of available waitstaff. Senator Kelly rambled about spending on education, and Governor Sununu talked about tech jobs and nursing. Neither had anything to do with the question.
Let me frame it. Politicians, particularly at that level, talk about the workforce as though there’s something wrong with you if you aren’t a computer scientist or a doctor. That is so wrong. There are a lot of people who just want to work, or actually enjoy their trade or vocation. We need waitstaff, welders, assemblers, and these are the jobs that some people want to do, and we should respect them for it. They are NOT second class citizens.
I can tell you why they are getting scarce and what needs to happen to fix it. I moved here from New York thirty years ago because I couldn’t afford housing costs on Long Island. I knew that if I came to Newport or Claremont (had spent some time here before) I would be able to get a job and an apartment. It was not a great apartment, but you could make it work with what Arlington Sample paid back then. Now you can’t. The jobs are gone and the housing is gone. In the late 1990’s, Claremont seized tax delinquent properties and removed around 600 low cost housing units from the market. This of course drove the remaining rents up.
If you want people to be able to make it as waitstaff and factory workers, we have to get housing costs down. Young people just starting out and people who want to work in retail can not afford the current levels, and they can’t all get Section 8. This is the answer that one of them should have given. If I was in the situation that I was in 30 years ago today, I do not know if New Hampshire would be my destination. This,above all, is what needs to change. We also can’t get bogged down in unrelated debates about political talking point issues like minimum wage and “workforce housing”.
Developers need to be incentivized to create rental units that are around $500 per month. Pieces of this involve reducing property taxes, lowering fuel costs, and lowering electric rates. We all need a place to live, and we all use electricity. If we want to retain young people, and make it possible for people without college degrees to do an honest day’s work and live a good life, these need to be our priorities. How hard is it to understand? if there is no viable place for them to live, then they will live elsewhere.