New Hampshire falls behind Massachusetts in New England growth rate

Mark Hayward, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·3 min read

Apr. 28—New Hampshire's population growth slowed to 4% in the last decade while Massachusetts overtook the Granite State as the population-growth leader in New England, according to U.S. census figures released this week.

From 2010 to 2019, the population of Massachusetts grew at a rate of 7%, about the same as the country's overall population growth.

That's the opposite of the 2000s, when New Hampshire was the fastest-growing state in the Northeast with 7% growth. The Bay State lagged behind at 3%.

The numbers are the first of a raft the Census Bureau will release in the coming months. The data released Monday were for the purpose of apportioning states' congressional representation.

Population experts blame the Granite State's slowing population on several factors.

"New Hampshire doesn't have very much of a natural population increase anymore," said Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and senior demographer with the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy.

Each year since 2017, New Hampshire deaths have outpaced births, so in-migration has been the only source of population growth, he said.

Immigration from overseas plays a much bigger role in Massachusetts population growth than New Hampshire, where most arrivals come from other states, Johnson said.

A higher population means more customers and workers for businesses, he said, and more volunteers for important community roles.

"If a community is losing people, it's almost always losing young adults," Johnson said.

While New Hampshire fell behind Massachusetts, it still held its own in New England, boasting the second-highest rate of growth among the six-state region, and overtaking the population of Maine.

During the 2010s, New Hampshire grew by about 57,600, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Monday. The state grew by about 83,000 in the previous decade.

Another reason for the growth slip: little new housing. From 2010 to 2019, only 32,651 units of housing — everything from apartments to seaside mansions — received permits, said Noah Hodgetts, assistant planner for the New Hampshire Office of Strategic Initiatives.

"You can only increase population by as many housing units you have for that population to live in," Hodgetts said.

The next big Census release is expected in September, which will be used to apportion congressional and state legislative seats in each state. That count goes down to the block level and includes breakdowns of gender, race and housing units, Johnson said.

"It's like Christmas for us," Johnson said about the decennial release.

Some tidbits:

At 1,379,089, New Hampshire is now the third-largest state in New England, behind the much larger states of Massachusetts (7 million) and Connecticut (3.6 million).

The Census is constantly estimating state populations. Its July estimate for 2020 was 1,366,275, meaning the bureau shorted New Hampshire 12,800.

New Hampshire is now home to 15,500 more people than Maine, which is nearly four times the geographic size of the Granite State. Maine had about 11,600 more people 10 years ago.

Rhode Island's population growth of roughly 43,000 people was close to New Hampshire's — 4.3% compared to 4.4%. Maine, Vermont and Connecticut had population growth rates of 3%, 3% and 1%, respectively.

Compared to other smaller states — those with populations between 1 million and 2 million — New Hampshire and New England did not do so well. Hawaii, Nebraska and Idaho had growth rates that either met or exceeded the country's as a whole. Only West Virginia lost population.

New Hampshire voters remain powerful. New Hampshire has two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and each represents 689,545 constituents. That is the seventh-lowest number of constituents per House member in the country, meaning — theoretically at least — fewer votes that Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster need to get elected and more time each can spend with a constituent. Compare that to Delaware, where the one U.S. House member represents nearly 991,000 constituents. The national average is 761,200 constituents per House member.

mhayward@unionleader.com