by Gene Martin, New Hampshire Bulletin
Public policy too often seems inaccessible to people, since not many folks have the time to follow the ins and outs of governments. The types of budgets that people know best are their household ones: “How can I pay for that or hold off on that until my next paycheck?” Those are the decisions New Hampshire residents are focused on. That feeling was real for me during my childhood and adulthood.
I shared a bit of my journey to show precisely how fiscal policy (enacted well) can lead to a vibrant, flourishing, just, and equitable New Hampshire for all.
As the executive director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, independent policy research nonprofit organization based in Concord, and a father to two young daughters, I spend a considerable amount of my professional and personal life thinking about the importance of fiscal policy, as well as who it helps and who it leaves behind.
Thanks in part to good fiscal policy, I am where I am today.
When I say “fiscal policy,” I am referring to policymakers’ decisions on which types of programs the government invests in and to what extent those policy interventions better the lives of residents and result in economic security for all. When I look at how fiscal policy touched my life, I think about living in a homeless shelter and federal nutrition programs that helped feed us in that one bedroom we had in that shelter.
As a then-elementary student, I am reminded of the free school meal program that sustained me throughout my school day. I remember how long it took my family to get a housing voucher (Section 8) and then the additional time it took to find an apartment. As a result of the Federal Housing Administration’s first-time home buyers’ loan program, my parents achieved the dream of home ownership in Manchester in their late 30s. I also think about the mix of federal and state fiscal policy that allowed me to be the first person in my family to graduate from college, albeit with over $40,000 in student loans, after going to an in-state university.
While I was grateful for the opportunity to obtain my bachelor’s degree (which many employers see as a requirement), the student debt burden I gained, like other working-class students, is an example of fiscal policy that would benefit many if revised.
In solving a problem, ideally, solutions are designed that enable the best outcome for everyone – which often means a targeted approach. Equity is critical to sound fiscal policy because not everyone begins at the same point as others. That simply acknowledges problem solvers must have a multifaceted approach to address root causes. As the oldest child in an interracial marriage, I see clearly how our family lacked a head start that other families benefited from. If a family has a long history of homeownership, higher education, etc., that social capital obtained provides an advantage.
The dichotomy of New Hampshire’s high state rankings can often allow our society to forget the genuine and persistent struggles facing Granite State families and individuals with low and moderate incomes. For example, New Hampshire is often touted for having the lowest poverty rate. It is essential that we do not allow that superlative to ignore the nearly 100,000 Granite Staters who live in poverty and the hundreds of thousands of residents who live above the poverty line yet struggle to afford a high quality of life.
Late last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released datasets that provide insights into the economic well-being of Granite Staters and all U.S. residents. Some discrepancies exist between different population groups in New Hampshire. While the data for 2022 only offer limited insights into populations and geographies within the state due to limited data collected, the release shows continued trends. ACS data aggregated over 2017-2021, which will be updated with 2022 data in December 2023, show longer-term differences with more reliable detail. The poverty rate for Black or African American Granite Staters has consistently been about 2.5 times higher than for white residents. At the same time, rates are almost twice as high for Hispanic or Latino residents and elevated for Asian residents or Granite Staters identifying as two or more races relative to white residents, reflecting both historical and present-day barriers to opportunity that hinder upward mobility for people of color in New Hampshire.
Strengthening economic security through strong fiscal policy can allow our state’s economy to thrive for everyone. It is no secret that the State of New Hampshire faces a confluence of significant policy problems: A workforce shortage. Difficulties accessing child care. Lack of affordable housing. A dearth of financial support for public colleges and universities. Food insecurity. Education opportunity gaps. Rising health care costs. Sadly, fiscal policy is seen as a zero-sum game where if one person gets X, another cannot get Y.
To realize a New Hampshire where everyone can thrive, we all have a moral obligation to see beyond this false choice and aspire to solve the interconnected challenges we face with data-informed decisions and implement sound fiscal policy grounded in equity.
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