Back in business?

Reading the signs of uptick in employment

Handwritten or printed, taped to windows or on the front of cash registers, a certain type of sign has been springing up around Peterborough this summer, all carrying the same promise: a job.

Are these signs tangible indicators that the economy in the Monadnock region is turning around? Or are they simply heralds of low-wage seasonal work?

Donna Brand, employment specialist at The River Center in Peterborough, isn’t getting too excited, but she said she has seen a “small trend of things picking up” in the job market.

“I’d say it’s the slight beginning of a trend, especially in the health-care sector,” Brand said.

But, she notes, she is still meeting with people who are frustrated and discouraged with the availability of employment in the region. She also said she has seen the continuation of a trend she noticed for the first time five years ago: “Older misplaced workers,” as she put it, struggling to find employment.

“These are folks in the 50-plus age range who are looking for jobs, but are really having trouble finding them,” Brand said in a recent telephone interview

Positions available are not as robust as they used to be, Brand said. Increasingly, more and more people are forced to support themselves or their families with multiple part-time jobs, rather than one full-time one.

“There’s a definite increase in people coming in and saying that they have part-time jobs, but are not able to make ends meet,” said Brand. “And they’re presented with a difficult task, which is keeping that job, and having to find supplemental work that fits around their current job hours. And that is a real challenge. Also an issue is that because they have part-time work, it’s not offering benefits.”

Annette Nielsen, an economist with New Hampshire Employment Security, said nationally there is a trend for more part-time positions or less-well paying jobs coming back on the market, and agreed that to some extent that is true in the Monadnock region as well. According to employment projections for the Monadnock region produced by the State Employment Security Office, technology fields, particularly in manufacturing, and health care are the fastest growing job fields, or the ones that are expected to create the most new jobs, but the ones that are projected to have the most openings are in less well-paying fields, such as sales or food service.

Another trend, added Brand, is that jobs that once people might have been able to make a living with are coming back on the market at a lower rate of pay. “The rate of pay for the same jobs, with the same requirements, is lower than it used to be,” she said.

Looking to the future

In a June 2014 report, the N.H. Employment Security, Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau estimated that over a 10-year period from 2012-2022 “employment in New Hampshire is projected to increase by 10.3 percent, an average of 1 percent annually.”

The same report found that service-providing industries are projected to account for more than 80 percent of total employment in New Hampshire by 2022. While the manufacturing sector is projected to contract by 1.4 percent by 2022.

Cashiers, retail salespersons and waiters and waitresses are expected to have the most openings over the 10-year period.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in New Hampshire, as of Jan. 1, 2014, the average combined cash and tip wage rate for “tipped employees” was $7.25, representing a full-time employee yearly income of roughly $15,080. At this income, an individual would qualify for low-income support from the state of New Hampshire, including the New Hampshire Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that provides money to those who are having trouble paying for heat during the winter season.

The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of New Hampshire workers paid below the minimum wage fell from 8,000 workers in 2012 to 5,000 in 2013. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 3.5 percent of hourly workers in New Hampshire earn the minimum wage or less and well over half of those are tipped employees.

In addition to openings in retail and wait-staff positions, the June 2014 report finds that jobs in health-care support, computer and mathematical occupations, health-care practitioners and technical occupations and personal care and service occupations are projected to grow.

“As the population for older residents grows, employment of home health aides and personal care aides is projected to grow much faster than the 10.3 percent average. In addition to an aging population, a shift to home-based care provides a less expensive alternative to hospitals or nursing homes,” reads the Occupational Highlights from the June 2014 New Hampshire Employment and Security Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau report.

Brand sees this trend in the Peterborough Labor Market, too. “The health-care sector is pretty much the only sector of employment I’ve seen steadily increasing,” she said.

According to Employment Security job projections for the Southwest Region of New Hampshire, which encompasses 35 towns including Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Hancock, Greenfield, Greenville, Jaffrey, New Ipswich, Peterborough, Rindge, Sharon and Temple, the jobs that will see the greatest percentage of growth are community and social services, health care practitioners and techs, and health care support occupations, as well as personal care and service. The ones that will see the least amount of growth are office and administrative support, production, arts, design, entertainment and sports, legal occupations and management occupations.

However, Nielsen noted that does not mean that the highest-growing fields are the best move career-wise, or that the slow growing ones are bad career moves. Though some occupations won’t see a lot of new job production, New Hampshire — along with the rest of the country — is seeing the start of the baby boomer retirement age, which will leave a lot of holes in the job market as that generation ages out of the workforce. The key factor in the future of the job market is how long that generation decides to keep working.

Where are the jobs?

While not the fastest growing fields, the highest number of annual openings for positions are in sales and related occupations, office and administrative support occupations, and food preparation and serving occupations. The lowest number of annual job opening in the region are in the fields of legal, life, physical and social science, and farming, fishing or forestry.

“Growth is coming back in the industries that have always been growing,” said Nielsen. “There’s a lot in food services occupations, but that’s not that different than it used to be,” she said, adding that New Hampshire’s tourist economy has always driven that portion of the workforce.

Technology is also a growing field, in both technological occupations and the need for the use of technology in other fields. Technology is beginning to be an increasingly important piece in manufacturing, she noted, which is a large portion of the Southwest region’s economy. As technology grows more important to those companies, they will be increasingly looking for workers who have experience with it, to reduce the amount of training required. Where jobs, such as the service industry can train employees in a matter of hours, training in technology can become a large time and cost investment for companies. But that also means those companies have more incentive to retain the employees they already have, added Nielsen.

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