My Turn: Stop silencing New Hampshire’s young people

For the Monitor
Published: 4/6/2021 9:33:54 AM

New Hampshire Republicans’ most recent attempt to disenfranchise the state’s college students is exacerbating the state’s most pressing economic challenge: its aging population. By preventing students from participating in the most basic form of self-governance, state Republicans tell out-of-state students that they’re not welcome and in-state students that New Hampshire doesn’t care what their friends think. No wonder so few of them decide to stay.

Less than four years after Republicans’ most recent efforts to make it harder for college students to vote here, they are at it again. The GOP’s current assault on voting rights includes no less than six separate bills. Among other things, these bills prevent students from claiming New Hampshire as their domicile for voting purposes, require public colleges and universities to provide in-state tuition to any student registered to vote in the state, and prevent people from using an affidavit to register and vote if they don’t have their documentation with them.

These bills are not meant to address any proven issues with voter fraud. Instead, they’re a transparent admission that Republicans have given up on trying to convince college students to vote for the GOP and have decided instead to prevent college students from voting at all. But clinging to power by disenfranchising young people undermines the economic vitality of the state.

New Hampshire’s aging population presents a dramatic and worsening economic hurdle. New Hampshire has the ninth-largest share of its population over the age of 65 of any state. The over-65 population is growing at the third highest rate in the country, and New Hampshire is the second-oldest state in the union by median age. That aging population presents a significant danger to the state’s economy.

People over 65 are generally less economically productive than people between 25 and 65 and are more likely to draw on local government funds for pensions and health care. The University System of New Hampshire has estimated that only 50% of New Hampshire college and university students stay in the state after graduation. USNH also estimated that increasing that number to just 55% would bolster the state’s economic output by about $19 million per year, with a compounding positive impact of over $290 million in five years.

Instead of dreaming up new ways to prevent college students from participating in New Hampshire’s democratic process, we should be dreaming up new ways to convince them to stay. Some ideas include tuition reductions for students at public colleges and universities who commit to live in the state after graduation, tax breaks for companies who hire graduates of New Hampshire colleges, and actually funding the New Hampshire College Graduate Retention Incentive Partnership, which allows the department of business and economic affairs to partner with NH companies to provide incentives for recent college graduates to work here, but has been funded with only a single dollar after the governor allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

Reversing an aging population won’t be easy and will likely require some creative thinking and leveraging of New Hampshire’s strengths, including its beautiful lakes and mountains, low cost of living, and low tax burden. But a good way to start would be to ask the state’s college students if they have ideas about how to solve the problem instead of telling them that we don’t care what they think.

(Kevin Scura is a senior associate at Rath, Young and Pignatelli.)

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