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Good news? Wages are up. Bad news? Work hours are longer

A help wanted sign in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Dan Tuohy
A help wanted sign in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

This article is shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. It was first published in the NH Business Review.

Last week’s good news was that New Hampshire’s record low unemployment rate of 2 percent – tied for the third lowest rate in the nation – and the state gained more than 21,000 jobs.

The bad news is that workers’ real wages are slipping, even if you count the extra hours they are putting in.

On an hourly basis, workers’ annual wages went up 4.1 percent compared to last year, to the chagrin of the employer but to the delight of the employee.

However, that delight ends as soon as the employee starts to spend that paycheck. The seasonally adjusted consumer price index went up 9 percent over the last year, according to the state employment security website. So that means the goods a worker buys is going up twice as much as what he or she earns.

Employees are working more hours – partly because employers need them to and partly because the worker needs to keep up. On average, it’s just short of a half hour more than last year. Thanks to that, the average weekly earnings went up 5.5 percent over last year. That’s still not enough to keep up with inflation, but it does take some of the edge off.

All this varies when it comes to the economic sector. As any hospital knows, the cost of medical providers has skyrocketed. Even when education is included (and it is under the monthly current and employment statistics report) hourly wages went up 10.8 percent, beating inflation. And because employees in that sector worked nearly an hour more each week than last year, weekly wages went up 13.4 percent. (We won’t be reporting the average wages, because it’s a bit misleading, since it includes everything from the janitor to a specialized physician to hospital CEO.)

Next is leisurely and hospitality workers. Hourly wages went up 8.8 percent, but – as anyone waiting for a table in a restaurant is well aware – they are working slightly fewer hours. So weekly wages only went up 8.4 percent.

Employees are also putting in longer hours at the office (wherever that office is located). Professional and businesses services employees worked 1.3 hours a week more than last year, so although hourly wages went up 7.3 percent, weekly pay increased 11.1 percent, making them the only category to beat inflation.

Manufacturing wages have stagnated. Hourly wages only went up 1.6 percent, and even after they put in nearly an extra hour a week, weekly wages went up 3.9 percent.

Biggest job gainers were in professional and business services, 6,500 jobs, followed by hospitality workers with 5,900. Manufacturing workers gain 2,400 jobs.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit 

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