YEAR IN REVIEW 2021: Unemployment continues to fall

  • Atlas Fireworks of Jaffrey was one of several local employers who signed up to participate in a job fair sponsored by the state’s Employment Security and Business and Economic Affairs divisions. Pictured, Nick Bergeron, left, and Chris Bergeron load a truck with fireworks for a display. —Staff file photo by Ben Conant

  • Student Transportation of America drivers clean buses at the bus depot on Hancock Road in Peterborough. Staff file photo by BEN CONANT

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/29/2021 5:01:41 PM
Modified: 12/29/2021 5:01:16 PM

In April 2020, right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all of the towns in the region – with the exceptions of Dublin, Francestown and Sharon – had unemployment rates over 10%, with Greenville’s reaching 17.3%.

By the end of the year and the start of 2021, the economy had recovered to the point where the New Hampshire Employment Security, Economic & Labor Market Information Bureau reported unemployment figures ranging from 3.3% in Peterborough to 5.5% in Mason.

The recovery continued throughout 2021, as in its latest report, for November, unemployment was as low as 1% in Francestown, with Sharon’s 2.4% the highest in the area.

By comparison, the state unemployment rate was 4% in January and 2% in November.

However, not every employer saw benefits from falling unemployment. Steve Pelkey, owner of Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group, Inc. in Jaffrey, said in May that he was having so much trouble finding employees that he was taking part in a virtual Monadnock Region Job Fair held in conjunction with New Hampshire Employment Security. 

“This is the worst job market I’ve seen in my 35 years of owning a business,” Pelkey said. “We used to have kids lined up from high school or kids from college coming back for the summer. Last year and this year, it’s just nothing.”

Pelkey said he signed up for the job fair because “We just don’t know what else to do.”

“We can’t get anybody,” he said. “We need to have seven or eight seasonal people just at our main warehouse facility to do our normal business in the summer. We can’t even get someone to show up and work at a register or stock shelves. The business is there. We just need to be able to have the staff. I just don’t know what the answer is.”

Pelkey said extra unemployment benefits made it hard for employers looking to fill openings.

“The reality is a lot of people can make $17.75 an hour to do nothing,” Pelkey said. “They just have enabled this environment with what I call the COVID crutch.”

Earlier in May, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that New Hampshire would discontinue the $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits enhancement before it was due to expire on Labor Day. He had already announced in April that on May 23, people collecting unemployment would need to resume searching for work while collecting benefits. 

“Our economy has come roaring back and with New Hampshire leading the nation in vaccinations, it’s an appropriate time to resume the requirement to look for work next month,” Sununu said at the announcement. “This return to our traditional, more normalized system is a sign that we are getting back to normal, and I would like to thank the team at Employment Security for their efforts in opening up access to job seekers and employers.”

Local school bus companies also struggled to find drivers, although Jeff Finfrock, area manger for Student Transportation for America, which provides school bus service for ConVal, said the shortage was nothing new.

“This is a trend and this has been going on for several years, not only locally but nationally,” he said. “We are short-staffed in several places fairly significantly. There’s just not a lot of people that want to do it anymore, and a lot of younger people are looking for full-time work with health care and significant wages and eight-hour days and that type of thing. And school bus driving is a part-time job, and you work in the mornings and afternoons and you work during the school year.”

Mascenic Superintendent Chris Martin said before the start of school that Community Transportation, the service that supplies transportation for the Jaffrey-Rindge and Mascenic districts, was also struggling.

“Much like everybody else in the state, we’ll be navigating some challenging waters in terms of getting our kids where they need to go,” Martin said.

 

Reporting from Tim Goodwin and Julia Stinneford was used in this story.


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