New Oxfam report shows New Hampshire beating national income averages, despite lowest minimum wage

A help wanted sign is posted outside Cyr Lumber in Windham, N.H., Thursday, May 7, 2020. Roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A help wanted sign is posted outside Cyr Lumber in Windham, N.H., Thursday, May 7, 2020. Roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

By SOFIE BUCKMINSTER

Monitor staff

Published: 07-10-2024 5:01 PM

Nearly one out of every five New Hampshire workers makes less than $17 per hour.

While that’s below the national average of 23% – 39 million people nationwide – the Granite State still has a long way to go to lift wages for its workers, according to a new report from Oxfam released Wednesday.

The report advocates for a gradual minimum wage raise to $17 over five years.

For New Hampshire, where lawmakers in recent years have killed numerous attempts to raise the minimum wage, this may seem out of reach. But Kaitlyn Henderson, the primary author of the report, insists that bumping up the wage floor is in everyone’s best interests.

“I like to remind folks that raising the minimum wage is a totally bipartisan issue,” she said. “It’s something everyone can agree on. If you work hard, you deserve to be paid fairly.”

Statistically, New Hampshire workers fare better than the national average along seemingly every demographic line. The percentage of workers who make low wages – defined as less than $17 per hour – is lower for all races, genders, and ages. But national disparities between races and genders are still reflected in the statewide averages, with women of color having the highest percentage of workers in the low-wage bracket.

New Hampshire is one of 20 states in the country and the only one in New England that holds the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, where it has remained for 15 years. Most of those 20 states have the highest proportions of low-wage workers, yet wages here on average tend to be higher.

To Henderson, the reason may lie in the state’s workforce opportunities.

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“New Hampshire is an interesting example,” she said. “It has one of the highest labor force participation rates, and that has a big impact.”

The state has an unemployment rate of slightly over 2%, which is about half of the national rate. With a lack of affordable housing and a slightly older population, New Hampshire has fewer workers than the state’s industries demand. According to a January 2024 CNN report, the state has more than two job vacancies per job seeker, compared to a national ratio of 1.4.

While the worker shortage is not explicitly positive, it does put pressure on businesses to offer more competitive wages. Plus, Henderson pointed out, COVID benefits gave workers a bit more power to bargain for better pay.

“It’s like, ‘No, I’m not going to take that job. I have a little bit of money, so I can pay my rent, and I’ve got more time to wait for a new or better job that would pay more and give me more options,’” she said.

Based on New Hampshire’s average of 17% of the workforce making below $17 an hour, about 130,123 workers currently earn low wages, according to the report from Oxfam, which advocates for an end to poverty.

“The cost of living has continued to climb, leaving millions of families working harder than ever, but falling behind,” the report states.