Although an imperfect barometer of economic well-being, measuring overall job growth or decline is one way of taking the pulse of the regional economy. When looking at job trends in Southwest NH and neighboring regions, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are apparent in the dramatic drop in overall job numbers from 2019 to 2020. Annual figures for 2021 will likely show some rebound from 2020 lows, but it’s still unclear how complete the recovery will be and over what timeframe. Some job losses will be temporary while others may represent fundamental, long-lasting changes in the regional economy.
Although the economic picture from the coronavirus pandemic is still emerging, longer-term trends are more clearly revealed by jobs data. Perhaps most notably, Cheshire County never recovered the jobs lost during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Prior to the Great Recession, Cheshire County saw a peak of 34,192 jobs in 2006. The same number fell to 31,524 jobs in 2010, and remained flat until the pandemic struck in 2020. In other words, Cheshire County lost 2,668 jobs over the course of the pandemic, most of which never rematerialized.
Other counties in Southwest NH experienced different job trends after the Great Recession. Sullivan County saw job growth beginning in 2010, but job totals peaked and began to fall in 2016. Hillsborough County, meanwhile, saw consistent growth from to 2010 until the beginning of the pandemic. None of the counties in Southwest NH saw job growth that matched the rate of statewide gains in the post-Recession period.
While there is cause for concern regarding both long and short-term job trends in Southwest NH, especially in Cheshire County, there are also localized areas of strong job growth. When looking at the town/city level, there is significant variation job gains/losses since the Great Recession. For example, both Swanzey and Jaffrey have posted double-digit job gains over pre-Recession levels, well above the statewide rate of job growth. Keene and Peterborough, meanwhile, have experienced net job losses over the same period. (You can use the interactive visual below to see additional data for all available job data for Southwest NH communities.)
Data for total job growth/decline raises as many questions as it does answers. What types of jobs are being lost/gained and, relatedly, which workers in our community have been most affected by these changes? What might be some underlying reasons for these shifts and the geographic variation that we see across the region? Future analysis will explore these topics in greater detail.