July 18, 2019

N.H. cost of living outpaces wages

CONCORD, N.H. – The basic cost of living in the state is rising faster than wages, driven by major increases in the cost of day care, health insurance, housing and utilities, a new study finds.

The study, New Hampshire’s Basic Needs and Livable Wage, looked at what adults need to earn to cover basic expenses including rent, utilities, food, clothing, transportation by car, health care and child care, based on family size and region.

Single adults need to earn an average of $10.42 an hour, or $21,683 annually, while a single parent with two children, ages 4 and 6, needs to earn the most: $19.50 an hour, or $42,033 each year.

In families without access to an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, adults need to earn an additional $2.50 to $5.50 per hour to pay for private insurance, said study author Daphne Kenyon.

The state’s minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, but the median wage is $14.66, meaning half the state’s workers earn more and half earn less, Kenyon said. The basic needs budget amounts to at least twice the federal poverty level.

“A family may not be categorized as poor but still be unable to meet basic needs,” she said.

Recent livable wage studies in neighboring states yielded similar results. In a family with two working parents and two working children, the adults needed to earn $11.69 per hour each, or a total of $48,625 annually, in New Hampshire. In Maine, the figure was $11.51; in Burlington, Vt., it was $9.93; and in Boston it was $12.93, Kenyon said.

Rising health care costs are hurting the economy because expenses for treating the uninsured are shifted to the insured, said Sandra Van Scoyoc, president of the Healthy New Hampshire Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for better access to health insurance, especially for children. The foundation was one of the study’s sponsors.

“As the cost of health care increases, it doesn’t just affect those families who are struggling. It affects everyone in the health care system, so it’s a huge drag on all of us, employers and employees,” Van Scoyoc said.

Health insurance costs have risen about 11 percent each year since the first livable wage study for the state in 2000, but day care costs have risen even faster – 14 percent annually, said Janice Kitchen of the University of New Hampshire Office of Economic Initiatives.

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