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The 2020 Census And New Hampshire, Explained By UNH Demographer Ken Johnson

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Sara Plourde
According to the 2020 Census, the fastest-growing counties in New Hampshire were Rockingham and Strafford.

The U.S. Census Bureau released long-anticipated data on Thursday from its 2020 count. It shows that New Hampshire grew modestly over the last decade, but lost population in some rural counties.

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These numbers will shape government spending and political power for the next ten years. NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Ken Johnson, a demographer from the University of New Hampshire, about what these numbers mean for the state.

Four Takeaways From The Conversation

  • The state of New Hampshire grew by 4.6% between 2010 and 2020, the second-highest percentage in New England. Only Massachusetts grew faster.
  • Over 80 percent of the growth in the state's population was because of migration. There were only about 6,500 more births than deaths in the state, significantly fewer than in the previous decade.
  • We don’t have much detailed data on the aging population in N.H. But estimates show the older population in New Hampshire is increasing while the younger population is decreasing. 
  • New Hampshire is becoming more diverse, but not anywhere near as diverse as the rest of the country. In 2010 it was 94% non-Hispanic white; now it is 88 percent non-Hispanic white. Hillsborough County is the most diverse county in the state.


Rick Ganley: Ken, I know you've been waiting eagerly for these numbers. Let's start with the big picture here. How much did the state of New Hampshire grow and how does that compare with the rest of the region and the country?

Ken Johnson: Well, the state of New Hampshire grew by 4.6 Percent between 2010 and 2020. That was the second-highest percentage in New England. Only Massachusetts grew faster, and all the states in New England grew more slowly than the U.S. average, which was 7.4 percent. So New Hampshire did reasonably well in the region but was growing slower than the U.S. as a whole.

Rick Ganley: And different counties in New Hampshire had significantly different rates of growth too.

Ken Johnson: Right, the fastest growing counties in New Hampshire were Rockingham and Strafford, and they both grew at about 6.3 percent. Most of their growth came from migration. And Coos [County] lost 5 percent of its population, mostly because it had more deaths than births.

Rick Ganley: And this follows some long-term trends, doesn't it?

Ken Johnson: Right. These trends are fairly consistent with the longer-term trends. Although New Hampshire did grow more quickly in the last decade than it did in this decade. New Hampshire usually depends a lot on migration for its growth. That's become even more significant now.

Well over 80 percent of the growth in the state's population was because of migration. There were only about 6,500 more births than deaths in the state, which is significantly fewer than in the decade before.

Rick Ganley: I'm curious how you see New Hampshire in the larger context. Do we have any parallels to trends in other parts of the country?

Ken Johnson: Well, certainly the trends are similar to what we see in other parts of the Northeast. New Hampshire is certainly growing slower than many states in the west and the south. Part of the reason it grows as it does is because of where it is. That is, it's in proximity to the big Boston metropolitan area, which helps fuel the growth in its southern counties. It also has a lot of amenities and recreational areas, which means that counties like Carroll growth grew fairly quickly, even though they had more deaths than births because of attracting migrants.

And then the North Country in New Hampshire is much like the northern areas of upper Midwestern states, where the shift from sort of a resource-based industry has had an impact on the local population trend. So even though it's a small state, in many ways it's sort of a microcosm of what's going on in the U.S. more generally.

Rick Ganley: Numbers do show that racial diversity in the U.S. and New Hampshire is increasing. New Hampshire is now 88 percent white, as opposed to 94 percent a decade ago. But there are some concerns about the accuracy of this year's race and ethnicity data. Can can you explain what that is?

Ken Johnson: Well, there have been some changes in how the Census Bureau gathers data on race, and the American population itself has become more multiracial and diverse than it has been in the past. So part of it is what's happening to America itself. And as you pointed out, New Hampshire is becoming more diverse, certainly not anywhere near as diverse as the rest of the country.

But the trends are the same. That is, it's becoming more diverse. The Hispanic population, the Asian population are the two largest groups other than non-Hispanic whites. And the multiracial category has grown in New Hampshire as well as that has in the United States more generally.

Rick Ganley: And how does that diversity look when you compare it to the rest of New England?

Ken Johnson: Well, New Hampshire certainly is not as diverse as Massachusetts or Connecticut, but it is more diverse than Vermont and Maine. So again, New Hampshire [is] sort of in the middle. Again, compared to much of the rest of the country, of course, it's much less diverse. The U.S. as a whole, the non-Hispanic white population is just below 60 percent, whereas in New Hampshire it is 87 percent. So less diverse than the country as a whole, following the same trends as the country as a whole. And there's quite a bit of variability and diversity within the state. Hillsborough County is the most diverse county in the state, and then we have a number of counties which are less diverse.

Rick Ganley: Not surprising, again, with the population centered in the southern and eastern parts of the state.

Ken Johnson: Exactly.

Rick Ganley: We've heard a lot, Ken, about New Hampshire and northern New England getting grayer. We are seeing in census numbers some aging trends here. What are you seeing in this set of data that we didn't see a decade or 20 years ago?

Ken Johnson: Well, this data that was released [Thursday] doesn't have very much detail on age. It only shows the population over the age of 18 and under the age of 18. So it's going to be a while before we get more detailed data. But the population estimates that we've been using turned out to be fairly accurate for New Hampshire. So the aging data that we've seen from that data would suggest that the older population in New Hampshire is getting larger, whereas the younger population, the under 18 population, is diminishing in size.

So New Hampshire has a large proportion of its population and the baby boom ages, which are, of course, now aging up into the over 65 category. So much of the growth in New Hampshire's older population is growing substantially and will continue to do so is because of the aging in place of those older baby boomers. New Hampshire actually had more people dying than were born in each of the last several years, which is another reflection of the fact that the population is aging. And of course, the comments I just made, all are before COVID's impact, which isn't reflected in the 2020 census data.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct an earlier error about the difference in the number of deaths and births in New Hampshire over the past decade.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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