“Our default position should be to try to keep the schools open and get children who are not in school back in school as best as we possibly can.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dec. 9, 2020

With the 2020-21 school year half over, tensions regarding school reopenings have reached new heights.

In Nashua, frustrated and angry parents are trying to recall school board members who oppose reopening the city’s public schools. 

The New Hampshire Education Association has demanded that teachers be classified with “high-risk first responders” and given priority access to limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.

News coverage, as usual, focuses on the politics rather than the data.

Stepping back from the drama and looking at the research, it is clear that reopening schools can be done safely, with little risk to students, teachers, staff, or the general public. 

In fact, that has been clear since the summer, when researchers at Johns Hopkins University pushed for schools to reopen. Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that reopening schools “should be a national priority, and it’s much more important—immeasurably more important—than opening bars or restaurants.”

Regarding the risk to teachers and other school staff:

  • An occupational risk tool designed by the Vancouver School of Economics put Canada’s education sector in the medium risk category for COVID-19 exposure.

Regarding COVID-19 transmission in schools generally:

  • A Duke University study of North Carolina schools last fall “found extremely limited within-school secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2” and found that “no instances of child-to- adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools.”
  • A study published in Eurosurveillance, the European journal of infectious disease epidemiology, last spring found “no evidence of secondary transmission of COVID-19 from children attending school in Ireland.”

Regarding schools and community spread:

  • “The data so far are not indicating that schools are a super spreader site,” University of Michigan infectious disease expert Dr. Preeti Malani said during an Infectious Diseases Society of America briefing in October. 
  • A University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research study published in December found that school instruction models don’t affect community spread when community infection rates are not high. When community rates are high, in-person instruction with a large percentage of students in school was associated with some additional community spread. The study found that “there is no significant evidence that school systems offering hybrid instruction increases COVID spread.”

The research is increasingly clear that schools can be opened safely when standard precautions are followed. 

Importantly, this summary addresses only the risks of COVID-19 exposure, and not the numerous demonstrated negative effects of school closures on student well-being (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Given the well-documented negative impact that school closures have had on students, and the low risks associated with reopening, it is evident that getting students back into classrooms ought to be regarded as an urgent need.  

It’s the heart of winter, and home sales in New Hampshire are hotter than a leprechaun on a Lucky Charms-fueled bender in Vegas. 

December typically is a slow home sales month, for obvious reasons. But in December, 2020, sales were up 25% over December, 2019, and sales volume was up 49%, according to data tracked by the New Hampshire Association of Realtors. 

A home spends an average of only 33 days on the market in New Hampshire, down 47.6% from the previous December. And the median sales price hit $349,900, up 16%.

In December of 2019, housing experts were concerned because the median home price rose to $299.999, just a dollar shy of $300,000. In a year, the median price rose by nearly $50.000.

And that price increase happened as new listings rose by 30%. People couldn’t put houses on the market quickly enough to meet demand. There was 2.4 months’ worth of supply in the housing market in December of 2019. A year later, that was down to 0.9 months.

Just five years ago, the median home price in New Hampshire was $249,800, fully $100,000 less than today’s median. 

Although urban coronavirus refugees pushed demand even higher in 2020, it was far outstripping supply long before the pandemic hit.

A state report issued in December noted that even though 2019 was the sixth year in a row to experience a growth in the number of housing units permitted by local governments, “the level of building activity continues to be less than half of the level at its peak in the early 2000s.”

Housing totals illustrate how slow the pace of new construction has been.

Hillsborough County, home to the state’s two largest cities, had 166,050 total housing units (single-family, multi-family, and manufactured) in 2010. In 2019, it had 174,824, an increase of only 8,774, or about 5.3%. 

Statewide, total housing units rose from 614,238 in 2010 to 646,889 in 2019, an increase of 32,651, or just 5.3%. 

For contrast, the U.S. Census Bureau measured the change in housing units from April, 2010 to July, 2019 (so the time frame is different from the state’s by a few months). The Census figures show the total number of housing units nationwide rising by 6.1% from 2010-2019. The increase in New Hampshire was only 4.5%, by the Census’ count.

Rental housing is also in short supply, suffering from a severe shortage of new construction. The good news in 2020 was that the vacancy rate roughly doubled. The bad news is that it was below 1% last year and rose to only 1.8% this year. 

A healthy rental vacancy rate is considered to be 5%. New Hampshire last had a vacancy rate above 5% in 2009 — during the recession. Rents rise every year, driven largely by the extreme shortage of units, especially in places that are experiencing stronger economic growth. 

Legislators have introduced several bills to try to address the problem. But many of the bills focus on incentives and subsidies, as if developers need prodding from the Legislature to get rich selling homes people are clamoring to buy. 

The best way to get more housing is to reduce local government restrictions on the construction of new housing. Until that is done, anything else is just window dressing. Really, really expensive window dressing.

December was by far New Hampshire’s deadliest month for COVID-19 fatalities, with 233 recorded deaths, according to state data. That record high represents a 441.8% increase over November and a 32.4% increase over May of 2020, which recorded the state’s previous high of 176 deaths. 

The number of new recorded COVID-19 infections in December —23,034 — was more than double the total number of all recorded infections from March through November.

That huge increase in infections in just a few weeks indicates rapid and broad community spread of the virus. 

On Nov. 30, the state had tallied 20,994 total COVID-19 infections since the epidemic was first detected in New Hampshire. By December 31, the state had recorded 44,028 infections.

Total new infections in the month of November were 10,545. December’s 23,034 new infections represented a 118% increase over the previous month.

This rapid increase in infections and deaths is not unique to New Hampshire. December was the deadliest and most infectious month for the entire United States as well. 

As the Josiah Bartlett Center reported last month, the state’s hospitalizations figures are inaccurate, so we are not calculating a hospitalization total. 

The state officially listed an increase in total hospitalizations of only 63 for the month of December, an obviously incorrect number. The state went from 160 current hospitalizations on December 1 to 252 on December 15 to 317 on December 31. 

The large rise in daily numbers is not reflected in the state’s totals because the state does not include most hospitalizations in its totals.

The state’s official tally of total hospitalizations includes only people who were hospitalized when their COVID-19 infection was first recorded. Anyone hospitalized after the initial infection was recorded by the state shows up in the daily hospitalization count, but is not included in the total hospitalizations. 

Amid a historic collapse in transit ridership, the Executive Council has approved a $5.4 million contract to design a commuter rail line from New Hampshire to Boston. The contract is financed entirely with federal money, so New Hampshire taxpayers could choose to take some comfort in knowing that the state is throwing away what is mostly other people’s money. Nonetheless, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Americans have in the past year avoided mass transit like the plague, largely because of, well, a plague of sorts. But the trends before the rise of the coronavirus show a longer decline in ridership. 

In 2020, mass transit ridership fell by 50%, according to data kept by the American Public Transit Association. Commuter rail ridership fell by 62%. 

Transit ridership nationwide has been falling for years, according to federal data. (Commuter rail ridership has increased in the last decade, thought it’s leveled off in recent years.) 

In Boston, however, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) commuter rail ridership has been in steady decline. 

The Pioneer Institute reported last year that MBTA commuter rail ridership fell by 11% (or about 4 million riders) from 2012-2018. 

In November, the MBTA reported that commuter rail was down to 13% of its normal ridership level.

Whether transit ridership will rebound to anything near its pre-COVID levels is an open question. It might. But commercial real estate rents, along with announcements by large and small companies that they are preparing to permanently switch portions of their workforce to remote work, suggest that urban work and commute patterns might forever be altered.

Again, even before the arrival of the coronavirus, technological advancements were driving declines in public transit. Ride sharing companies have given people another, more convenient way to move around cities and suburbs without relying on government-provided vehicles that travel pre-set, government-chosen routes. Those services are drawing riders away from mass transit, as this University of Kentucky study shows.

Rail is a 19th century technology that is ill-suited to solving 21st century transportation and environmental issues. The way forward is through innovation. Electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles will get people where they need to go while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and turning commute time into productive work time. They are far more versatile than trains and will serve people’s travel needs better.

That transition is already underway. And flying cars might follow, further changing the way we travel. New Hampshire doesn’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a train to serve a declining number of commuters when tech companies are already working on alternatives that will better serve everyone. 

An education funding system in which education dollars go to families rather than directly to school districts is “the ideal,” Gov. Chris Sununu said at the Josiah Bartlett Center’s first Libertas Virtual Event on Thursday.

New Hampshire should focus on student outcomes, not how much funding the system gets, the governor said. 

“You can sum all this up with: It’s gotta be about outcomes for the kids, not outcomes for the system,” the governor said. “We have to stop worrying about the system as much as the kids.”

The governor advocated Education Savings Accounts, which are like health savings accounts, but for education. 

The state would deposit a portion of a child’s per-pupil allotment of adequate education aid into a government-approved savings account, which the parent could then use for education expenses. 

They offer a way to put students first, and the pandemic has increased demand for such a change, Sununu said.

“This isn’t about the traditional school choice battle. If you’re thinking about it that way, you’re way behind. Independent, non-political individuals… people that traditionally weren’t involved in this discussion are stepping up and saying, ‘wait a minute, where is my money going? Why isn’t my kid in school? Why are we stuck remote learning when we know that we can and should be having our kids in school, at least in some facet… and they’re getting involved in this discussion about where their money — not our money, their money — is being spent. That’s gonna raise the level of debate to where it needs to be.”

Letting the money follow the child is not about the quality of public schools, but about finding a model that serves every child’s needs, he said.

“We have great public schools here. But there are one, two, three, four percent of the population where it’s not ideal, and giving them that opportunity is huge.”

With so many parents angry and frustrated with the limited public schooling options presented this school year, 2021 could be the year that New Hampshire joins the six other states that have education savings accounts, Sununu said.

Republican House Speaker nominee Sherm Packard and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley have introduced bills to create education savings accounts. 

In the 2017-18 legislative session, an education savings account bill passed the Senate but was narrowly defeated in the House. 

Even heading into an expectedly mild winter, New Englanders are being reminded that the region has a dangerous shortage of natural gas transportation infrastructure. 

ISO New England, the region’s independent electric grid operator, warned on Tuesday that a lack of natural gas pipelines puts the region at risk of a winter power shortage in a period of extreme, prolonged cold.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation issued a similar warning in its Winter Reliability Assessment released last month. 

And in an interview with the Josiah Bartlett Center this week, the executive director of the Harvard Energy Policy Group at Harvard University said New England had avoided a winter power shortage purely by luck. 

“New England has had good luck. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Harvard’s Ashley Brown said. “One year, Venezuela dumped a bunch of gas. This year it’s a warm winter. It’s a matter of time until it catches up.”

The issue, Brown said, is a shortage of natural gas pipelines. 

“The fuel is there. The problem is moving it. It’s pipeline capacity, that’s what it is,” he said.

“The problem is two difficulties in building pipelines. One is the opposition, whether it’s environmental, whether it’s NIMBY. Then, after all that, you still have the problem of who’s going to finance it.”

ISO New England predicted that the region should have enough power to get through the coming winter. That comforting reassurance is what got the news headlines.

In part thanks to a winter temperatures that are expected to be warmer than usual, ISO New England projects electricity demand to fall 1.5 percent below last winter’s peak for normal weather conditions and 1.7 percent below its peak for extreme cold.

And yet the grid operator pointed out that New England remains at risk of running out of power during periods of peak demand caused by extreme cold.

Peter Brandien, vice president of System Operations & Market Administration, said in a statement that “if the region experiences an extended period of extreme cold weather, fuel supplies into the region could become constrained resulting in challenging system operation.”

The agency noted that a shortage of natural gas pipelines is cause for concern.

“Consecutive days of extremely cold weather can reduce fuel availability for generating power due to regional natural gas pipeline capacity constraints,” its announcement stated.

The North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC) report also predicted that the region would have sufficient energy to make it through the winter. But like ISO New England, it warned about insufficient gas pipeline capacity.

“New England [power] generation continues to be limited by the availability of natural gas,” the NERC report stated.

The report noted that gas supplies are adequate to meet demand even in abnormally cold conditions, however periods of severe and prolonged cold similar to 2018 “can lead to the eventual loss of generation.”

The report more than once referenced the nasty New England winter of 2017-18, which included a blizzard in January of 2018 that dropped up to two feet of snow across the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

By not building enough natural gas pipelines, New England is taking a risky gamble, Brown said. And the longer the region gambles, the better the odds that the worst-case scenario happens, Brown said.

“The question is, how long will we be lucky in New England?”

Sponsored by

 

 

Join us on Dec. 17!

 

Gov. Chris Sununu and author P.J. O’Rourke headline a new virtual event series launched this month by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

Go here to make your reservations ($120 for the entire six-month series, $25 for one event): ww.jbartlett.org/donate.

The Libertas Virtual Event Series will run for six months, from December through May, and will focus on policies that promote economic freedom in New Hampshire. 

Gov. Sununu kicks off the series with a Zoom event at noon on Thursday, Dec. 17. We will have a lively discussion about the importance of economic freedom to New Hampshire, governing during a pandemic, and what’s in store for 2021. 

Author P.J. O’Rourke headlines January’s event, the date to be announced soon. O’Rourke is author of numerous books, including “Parliament of Whores,” “Peace Kills,” and the newly released “A Cry from the Far Middle.”

A new event featuring a different speaker will follow each month through May.

The Josiah Bartlett Center launches the series with generous support from prime sponsors AT&T and Sig Sauer, with additional support from Bank of America. 

The Libertas Virtual Event Series replaces the Bartlett Center’s 2020 Libertas Award Dinner, which could not be held because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Reservations for the entire six-month series are $120, which is only $20 per event. Reservations for individual events will be available for $25 each. 

Reservations can be made at www.jbartlett.org/donate.

Donations to the Josiah Bartlett Center, a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization, are tax-deductible. The Josiah Bartlett Center’s mission is to develop and advance practical free-market policies that promote prosperity and opportunity for all Granite Staters.

All events will be held via Zoom webinar. Attendees will be able to post questions to be asked by the moderator.

New Hampshire’s COVID-19 test positivity rate rose by 480% in November, indicating rapidly increasing community transmission, state data show.

The test positivity rate, including tests from the University of New Hampshire, rose from a 7-day average of 1.5% on November 1st to a 7-day average of 6.8% on November 30th, according to data from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The state recorded 10,545 new infections in November, according to daily data drawn from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. (The dashboard numbers are different than the numbers reported in the daily press releases.)

That’s a 383% increase from the month before and a 94% increase over the previous eight months combined.

Cumulative infections for March through the end of October totaled 11,189.

Hospitalizations rose at a much slower rate than infections throughout the month, and deaths remained flat.

The state recorded 60 new hospitalizations in November, up from 36 in October, for a 166% increase. But that monthly total remains less than half the total in July (128) and just 28% of April’s high (213).

The state recorded 43 new COVID-19 deaths in November, the same number as in October, for no increase. Deaths were higher in April (69), May (176), June (136) and July (44) despite each of those months recording only a small fraction of November’s infections.

That deaths remained flat from October to November despite a 377% increase in infections was unexpectedly good news.

However, December’s early death numbers are very high and caution against assuming that fatalities are under control. The state recorded 18 deaths through December 3, representing 42% of November’s total in just three days.

Every death in November was a person age 60 or older. Every death so far in December also has been a person age 60 or older.

Through December 3, just 19 of the state’s 544 deaths have been people under the age of 60. Only one person under age 40 has died of COVID-19 in New Hampshire. That person was between the ages of 20 and 29. Nearly 81% of all New Hampshire COVID-19 deaths (80.9%) have been residents of long-term care facilities.

 

New Hampshire is a small, remote, mountainous state with no major port or trade hub. Considering only natural economic resources, it has more liabilities than assets. Yet its economy is legendary. Its economic growth has been the envy of New England for decades. 

How did this happen?

The simple answer is that New Hampshire unleashed the power of human ingenuity by systematically pursuing economic freedom for its people. The human mind being the greatest economic asset, New Hampshire leaders freed it from unnecessary constraints. Tremendous prosperity followed. 

What we call “The New Hampshire Advantage” is not merely the absence of a broad-based sales or income tax. It is the result of a consistent, decades-long strategy of leaving individuals and businesses largely free to trade with each other as they see fit. 

In short, the state’s economic strategy is to not have an economic strategy, other than to leave people and businesses free. It has worked beautifully. 

Below are the inflation-adjusted real GDP growth rates of every New England state from 1977-2019, from worst to first, along with the rate for the U.S. as a whole. The data are from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and were compiled by the United States Regional Economic Analysis Project. 

Rhode Island: 124%

Maine: 135%

Connecticut: 163%

Vermont: 188%

Massachusetts: 234%

New Hampshire: 335%

USA: 203%

New Hampshire’s 335% growth is astounding. Such are the benefits of economic freedom. 

The Fraser Institute, a Canadian free-market think tank, has for years ranked North American states on economic freedom. This week New Hampshire ranked No. 1 in North America — again.

For 24 straight years, New Hampshire has ranked as either the first or second most economically free U.S. state. Since Alberta, Canada, drifted away from free-market economics several years ago, New Hampshire has often ranked first in North America. 

As the authors of the Fraser Institute’s report point out, “economic freedom is positively correlated with per-capita income, economic growth, greater life expectancy, lower child mortality, the development of democratic institutions, civil and political freedoms, and other desirable social and economic outcomes.”

Many people assume that New Hampshire’s low levels of taxation and government spending would lead to a high poverty rate. The opposite is true. We have the lowest poverty rate in New England. 

The poverty rates for New England states are:

Maine: 10.9%

Rhode Island: 10.8%

Vermont: 10.2%

Connecticut: 10%

Massachusetts: 9.4% 

New Hampshire: 7.3%

Freedom and prosperity tend to attract people who live in less desirable places. During the half century starting in 1960, New Hampshire experienced the highest population growth rate in New England. In the 1980s, our population growth rate was more than double that of Vermont and five times that of Massachusetts.

A 2008 report for the Council on the Future of Vermont noted the sharp difference between New Hampshire and Vermont in the 20th century.

“Had we kept pace with their growth rate for the past 106 years, our population would now stand at 1.1 million, about double our present population,” it concluded. 

New Hampshire has gone from slightly more populous than Vermont in 1900 to more than twice as populous today.

Unlike Vermont, New Hampshire doesn’t have to pay people to move here. They come voluntarily.

In 2016, we surpassed Maine’s population for the first time in 215 years, though Maine is 3.78 times larger than New Hampshire.

Because humans are the world’s greatest economic resource, economic growth and population growth bring prosperity. Census figures show that New Hampshire’s median household income of $74,057 is about 25% higher than Vermont’s $60,076 and about 35% larger than Maine’s $55,425.

Despite having no Boston Harbor, Logan Airport, MIT, Harvard, BU, BC, or Yale, no Gold Coast along the Long Island Sound, and being relatively isolated in Northern New England, New Hampshire’s median household income is equal to 97% of Connecticut’s and 96% of Massachusetts’.

New Hampshire has a great state motto, which it should keep. But the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs could modify it into an accurate and catchy marketing slogan: “Live free and prosper.”

Since war and revolution gave way to trade and commerce, “Live free and prosper” has been the New Hampshire way. By cherishing economic freedom, we’ve created an island of liberty and prosperity in a region that has become distrustful of both. It works. Let’s stay with it.

New Hampshire is the most economically free state in North America for the second year in a row, and the third time in four years, finds this year’s edition of Economic Freedom in North America, the annual report from Canadian free-market think tank the Fraser Institute.

New Hampshire scored 7.84 out of 10 in this year’s report (down from 7.93 last year), beating out second-place Florida (7.73).

“The New Hampshire Advantage has made Granite Staters more economically free than roughly half a billion other North Americans, from Nunavut to Chiapas,” Josiah Bartlett Center President Andrew Cline said. “From the simple idea that people should be left as free as possible to pursue their economic dreams, we’ve created a continental marvel.”

Rounding out the top five freest U.S. states are Virginia (3rd), Texas (4th) and Tennessee (5th). At the other end of the index, New York (50th) is once again the least-free state, followed by West Virginia (49th), Alaska (48th), California (47th) and Vermont (46th).

New England states were ranked as follows: New Hampshire (1), Massachusetts (18), Connecticut (25), Maine (37), Rhode Island (43) and Vermont (46).

The report measures the extent to which the policies of individual provinces and states in Canada, the United States of America and Mexico were supportive of economic freedom, the ability of individuals to act in the economic sphere free of undue restrictions.

Economic freedom—the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions including what to buy, where to work and whether to start a business—is fundamental to prosperity.

“When governments allow markets to decide what’s produced, how it’s produced and how much is produced, citizens enjoy greater levels of economic freedom,” said Fred McMahon, the Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute and co-author of this year’s Economic Freedom of North America report, which measures government spending, taxation and labor market restrictions using data from 2018, the latest year of available comparable data.

From 2004 to 2018, the average score for U.S. states in the all-government index fell from 8.31 to 7.97. Across North America, the least-free quartile of jurisdictions had an average per-capita income 8.1 percent below the national average compared to 4.6 percent above the national average for the most-free quartile.

“Higher levels of economic freedom lead to more opportunity, more prosperity, greater economic growth, more investment and jobs,” said Dean Stansel, report co-author and economics professor at Southern Methodist University.

The Economic Freedom of North America report (also co-authored by José Torra, the head of research at the Mexico City-based Caminos de la Libertad) is an offshoot of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World index, the result of more than a quarter century of work by more than 60 scholars, including three Nobel laureates.

The U.S. edition of the report can be found EFNA-2020-US-POST.

Detailed tables for each country and subnational jurisdiction can be found at www.fraserinstitute.org.