Across Southwest NH communities, significant disparities exist in the average wage earned by workers. For example, workers in both Antrim and Hinsdale have historically earned a lower average wage than many other communities in the region. Antrim, however, has experienced moderate growth in wages since 2012, while wages offered in Hinsdale have remained flat. More broadly, Cheshire County has faced slower growth and lower average weekly wages than the State of New Hampshire and the U.S. as a whole.
Trends in wages across Southwest NH raise important questions about economic opportunity in the region. Considering Southwest NH’s rural character, lower average wages are perhaps counterbalanced, at least in part, by a lower cost of living when compared with an increasingly urbanized state and nation. Since wages, however, are not only lower, but growing more slowly, there is a risk that the earning potential of workers in the region will fall further and further behind that of their urban peers.
While there isn’t a quick fix to accelerating regional wage growth, there are several approaches that could contribute to increased earnings. Training and educational programs well-matched with the needs of regional employers could allow members of the labor pool to fill more skill-intensive and high-earning positions. Considering which industries to target through incentives, regulatory reform, and recruitment efforts could impact the types of jobs created in the region, thereby affecting growth of the average wage. While reducing the cost of living doesn’t increase earnings directly, it does increase the buying power of those earnings, allowing household budgets to stretch further. An adequate housing supply and public transportation options are two important factors that impact the local cost of living.
It’s important to note that the wage data examined above pertains to long-term trends that predate the pandemic. The tight labor market that has become a feature of the pandemic has led to a recent jump in wages across the country. Anecdotally, a similar trend has been reported in Southwest NH. It remains to be seen how pervasive and long-lasting the recent increase in wages proves to be.