As Gov. Chris Sununu moves to undo the state’s overly burdensome occupational licensing regime, legislators are trying to add more licenses. 

On Wednesday, March 22, the House voted 210-166 to require a state license for the practice of music therapy. 

Why? Health insurance.

Supporters said New Hampshire needs to license music therapists to ensure that patients can be reimbursed by their health insurer when they purchase music therapy treatment. 

It’s not that music therapists don’t practice — and practice safely — in New Hampshire. They do. It’s purely a matter of insurer reimbursement.

But as Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, pointed out, that’s hardly a reason to create an entire licensing bureaucracy for one therapeutic specialty. 

“…it is not the best use of our time and our state resources to create a separate statute, a separate license, a separate registration board, separate rules for each tiny specialization in the therapy field,” McGuire said.

House Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, argued that licensing music therapists would increase the supply of music therapists.

“New Hampshire is in the middle of a mental health crisis and the need for therapists is an urgent need,” he said.  People who need this type of therapy “could benefit from additional therapists.”

“…if there were certified music therapists and licensed music therapists,” he said, “it would increase the amount of people that would have access to care and high-quality care….”

But research on occupational licensing finds that licensing requirements tend to reduce the supply of practitioners and drive up prices. 

Only nine states license music therapists, according to the Certification Board for Music Therapists, a national organization that promotes excellence in music therapy.

If House Bill 532 becomes law, New Hampshire would be the only New England state to require a license to practice music therapy. Rhode Island registers, but does not license, music therapists, and Connecticut requires certification, but not a license, for anyone who uses the title “music therapist.” 

National certification through a respected trade organization offers a simple method for consumers to seek outside expert verification of music therapist credentials. 

In fact, supporters did not even make a health or safety argument for the license. There were vague references to “quality” therapists, but no one argued that the public is in danger from unlicensed music therapists, or that consumers are incapable of checking a therapist’s degrees or other credentials. 

In his budget, Gov. Sununu proposed a thorough restructuring of the state’s occupational licensing bureaucracy, complete with a consolidation of numerous boards and the elimination of 21 permanent licenses and 13 temporary licenses.

Other states are moving in this same direction. There’s a growing movement nationwide to remove unnecessary barriers to economic opportunity, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how economically damaging so many licensing restrictions are. 

Creating an additional licensing bureaucracy for a single niche field — when no health or safety reason has been identified — would move New Hampshire in the opposite direction. 

If health insurance reimbursement is the issue legislators want to address, then they could do so through insurance laws.


Editor’s note: Do you like the painting used to illustrate this piece? It’s the first AI-generated art we’ve used to illustrate an essay. We asked for a woman listening to music in a therapist’s office. Not bad. And no artist’s license was required.

A surefire way to suppress already low levels of youth employment is to raise the cost of employing younger workers. Some proposals in the Legislature would do that, in the name of helping these same workers. 

One proposal, House Bill 125, would make it illegal to employ 16-and 17-year-olds after 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and after midnight Friday and Saturday during the school year. 

Were this to become law, employers would be subject to fines of up to $2,500 each time a high school student clocks out a minute late. (These fines are seldom imposed, according to the state.)

State law currently caps at 35 the number of hours older teens can work during a five-day school week. HB 125 was intended to fix an oversight in a previous revision of youth employment law that inadvertently let teens ages 16 and 17 work up to 48 hours during shortened school weeks. But this particular attempt at a fix would inevitably trigger unintentional violations of state child labor laws. 

The predictable effect of such a law would be to discourage the hiring of high school students, and to reduce the hours of those who are hired. 

New Hampshire already limits youth under the age of 16 to working between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Adding a 9 p.m. curfew for older teens would further depress employment in this age group. Teen employment was declining sharply before the pandemic and fell again in 2020. It has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. 

With a precise time limit on the books, employers would be in violation of state labor law every time a teen doesn’t punch out on time. To avoid being written up for labor law violations whenever a teen gets distracted at the end of his or her shift, employers would end shifts earlier, hire fewer teens, or both. 

As if intended to depress youth employment even further, House Bill 58 would raise the wage for tipped jobs to a minimum of $7.25 an hour. Currently, New Hampshire employers may pay wages as low as $3.26 an hour to employees who earn tips.

HB 58 would set the regular federal minimum as the floor for all jobs, even those with substantial tip income. Were this to become law, restaurants would have to pay all servers an additional $3.99 per hour. The negative effect on employment would be immediate and predictable. 

A University of California-Irvine study published last August found that raising the tipped minimum wage reduced employment. 

“(O)ur evidence is quite clear and unambiguous in pointing to higher tipped minimum wages (smaller tip credits) reducing jobs among tipped restaurant workers, without enough of an increase in earnings of those who remain employed to offset the job loss,” the authors found.

Other research has found that higher minimum wages reduced teen employment, and that “teens exposed to higher minimum wages since 2000 had acquired fewer skills in adulthood.” 

Well-intentioned regulations such as those in HB 58 and HB 125 would end up worsening New Hampshire’s existing labor shortage and hurting the very people they are intended to help. 

In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 67,000 employed Granite Staters between the ages of 20-24. In 2022, that number was down to 52,000. 

In 2019, the state estimated the number of waiters and waitresses in New Hampshire at 12,390. In last year’s report, it was down to 7,260, a decline of 41%, even though the entry-level wage was $1 per hour higher. 

Restaurants, already pressed by rising supply, labor and energy costs, have been raising prices to maintain their meager margins. Add in a state mandate to more than double base pay for wait staff, and some restaurants certainly will be forced out of business. Others will raise prices even further. Restaurant prices rose 8.2% from January of 2022 to January of 2023, according to the National Restaurant Association. That’s higher than overall consumer prices, which rose 6.4%.  

According to surveys of New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association members, servers in New Hampshire earn between $20-$45 an hour when tips are included. Granite Staters do tip generously, ranking fifth nationally and first in New England, according to Toast, a Boston company that provides software for point-of-service tablets used by the restaurant industry.

As New Hampshire employers struggle with a labor shortage, persistent inflation and predictions of a looming recession, artificially increasing the cost of employing younger and lower-skilled workers would add an additional burden. As that burden would be tied to the hiring of those workers, it would likely lead to reduced opportunities for them. 

Hurting both employers and younger workers is not the intent of such regulations, but it would be the predicted outcome.  

“Healthy market competition is fundamental to a well-functioning U.S. economy. Basic economic theory demonstrates that when firms have to compete for customers, it leads to lower prices, higher quality goods and services, greater variety, and more innovation.”

— Heather Boushey and Helen Knudsen, “The Importance of Competition for the American Economy,” The White House, July 9, 2021

Competition has been central to American life from the beginning. It’s at the core of the American identity. As the Biden administration has stated (in the quote above), competition has proven its public value by stimulating the innovation that improves quality and lowers prices. 

Libraries full of economic research bear this out. As a paper for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development put it in 2002: “Competition has pervasive and long-lasting effects on economic performance by affecting economic actors’ incentive structure, by encouraging their innovative activities, and by selecting more efficient ones from less efficient ones over time.”

This applies to all industries, including education. School choice is expanding in state after state because the data show that it works. And it works not just for students who enroll in alternative programs but for those whose families choose traditional public schools as well.

“We find evidence that as public schools are more exposed to private school choice, their students experience increasing benefits as the program scales up,” a 2020 study of Florida’s tax credit scholarships found. “In particular, higher levels of private school choice exposure are associated with lower rates of suspensions and absences, and with higher standardized test scores in reading and in math.”

That’s not a fluke. 

Of 28 studies that have examined the competitive effects of various school choice programs on students who remain in traditional public schools, two found negative effects, one could find no effect, and 25 found positive effects, as EdChoice details in its compilation of school choice studies titled The 123s of School Choice. 

What about educational outcomes, such as graduating from high school or college? No study has found a negative effect, and most have found positive effects. 

For example, a 2019 Urban Institute study of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the nation’s largest private school choice program, found that it generated a 12% increase in college attendance.  

The vast majority of research on school choice finds that the introduction of a choice program tends to improve test scores, educational outcomes, parental satisfaction, integration, and civic values and practices — while saving money. 

The financial effects have been studied the most, and their findings aren’t surprising. Of 73 studies of the fiscal effects of school choice programs, five found a net cost increase, four found cost neutrality, and 68 found that the introduction of choice generated cost savings. 

School choice works because the competitive forces unlocked by the creation of a robust marketplace generate the same positive effects in education that they do in other industries. 

“Students attending schools with more competitive pressure made larger gains as program enrollment grew statewide than did students at schools with less market competition,” the authors of the 2020 Florida study wrote.

Because competition has been proven to generate positive outcomes in education, as in other industries, protecting education from competition can only harm students. 

The fastest way to improve outcomes for New Hampshire students is to give them more options. This can be done with a simple change. 

Eligibility for both the Tax Credit Scholarship and the Education Freedom Account programs is capped at 300% of federal poverty level. Removing the income cap and making both programs universally accessible would stimulate innovation, and match more students with their best educational environment, more rapidly than any other reform. 

Were all students to become eligible for both programs, competition would quickly begin to work its magic. There is no faster, more effective way to improve outcomes for all students. 

The January, 2023, draft of the state’s Capital Corridor commuter rail study contains nothing that commuter rail boosters should like. The financial analysis, prepared for the state Department of Transportation by AECOM Technical Services Inc. of Manchester, envisions a nearly $800 million railroad serving fewer than 100 Manchester commuters per trip, at an operating cost of $17 million per year. This represents a dramatic increase in costs and a devastating collapse in ridership since the DOT released its first Capital Corridor study in 2014. 

The report’s own dismal numbers show that Manchester-Boston commuter rail would squander hundreds of millions of dollars to serve only a few hundred riders per day, making it a colossal boondoggle. 

Failing its own goals

“The purpose of the Nashua-Manchester project (the Project) is to diversify mobility options that connect the southern New Hampshire region with the population, employment and commercial centers in the Greater Boston area, reduce congestion, emissions and travel time, and provide mobility options that promote equity and support demographic trends and preferences in the study area corridor,” the analysis states.

The report’s own numbers show that the Capital Corridor project would fail to achieve four of its five stated goals. 

  1. The Manchester ridership projections are so low (between 38-65 riders per trip by our favorable estimates) that the line will produce no noticeable impact on congestion.
  2. Low ridership numbers call into question whether the rail line will produce a worthwhile reduction in emissions. And the trains will be pulled by diesel engines that will begin operation just as auto manufacturers accelerate the switch to electric vehicles, which already account for 10% of auto sales. 
  3. The analysis projects that a trip from Manchester-Boston will take 1.5 hours by train. It currently takes one hour by car. Instead of reducing travel time, it will lengthen commute times by 50%. 
  4. Demographic trends and commuter preferences show that Boston-area employees would rather work from home or drive a car than commute into the city via mass transit. No data supports the creation of a new rail line to feed commuters into and out of Boston.

Rising costs, falling ridership

The 2023 draft financial analysis projects a total construction cost of $792 million. That is a 222.5% increase over the DOT’s original projection of $245.6 million in 2014. 

Adjusted for inflation (using the national Consumer Price Index), the original $245.6 million price tag would equal $312.9 million as of January, 2023 (the date stamped on the draft study). Yet the projected $792 million cost is 150% larger than that.   

The analysis projects annual operating and maintenance costs to be $17.27 million, a 60% increase from the 2014 projection of $10.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, the 2014 price tag would come to $13.76 million. The new projection is $3.51 million, or 25.5%, higher than that. 

As projected costs soar, projected ridership collapses. 

Both the 2014 and 2023 studies assume 16 commuter rail trips per weekday between a downtown Manchester station and Boston. The 2014 study projected a baseline average weekday ridership of 3,120 passengers on this line. That comes to 195 riders per trip.

The 2023 analysis does not project riders per weekday. Instead, it offers annual totals, which mask the collapse in projected daily ridership. 

The 2023 report projects an annual Manchester-Boston ridership of 271,538. That can be divided by 52 to get 5,221 riders per week. The report assumes some ridership on weekends, at a lower rate than weekdays, but it doesn’t break down the averages by day. If we generously include all weekend riders as daily commuters (which inflates the daily commuter numbers) and simply divide the weekly ridership by five, we get a mere 1,044 riders per weekday. That’s a 66% drop from the 2014 projections. 

Since 2014, the baseline assumption for ridership has fallen by 66% while the cost of building the line has increased by 222.5% and the cost of operations and maintenance has risen by 60%. 

That 66% decline in ridership comes before the study attempts to account for the effects of COVID-19 and its aftermath.

The study offers a low, medium, and high COVID impact analysis. Using the same method as before to convert those numbers from annual to weekday riders, we get the following:

Low COVID impact daily ridership: 835

Medium COVID impact daily ridership: 824

High COVID impact daily ridership: 612

When COVID’s impact is factored into ridership projections, the $792 million rail line is projected to transport 612-1,044 riders per weekday between Manchester and Boston. That comes to an average of 38-65 riders per trip, at a cost of $17.27 million per year. 

The analysis includes ridership projections for a Manchester-Boston Regional Airport station and a Nashua station. Those projections are higher than its projections for a downtown Manchester station. But those figures still represent significant declines in ridership from 2014 projections, with one possible exception. The projected ridership at a South Nashua Station could be slightly higher than the 2014 projections for a hypothetical “minimum commuter rail” option in Nashua, depending on how many weekend riders the new study anticipates. As mentioned above, we had to lump weekend riders into the weekday calculations since the study used only annual totals. But the bottom line remains that the study’s own projections show huge declines in ridership under most scenarios, and all Manchester scenarios, including the 2014 report’s “Manchester Commuter Rail” option that featured 20 trips per day. 

Unusual revenue assumptions

In addition to astronomical costs, the 2023 draft report assumes that fares (and some advertising) will cover an astronomical share of operating and maintenance expenses.

“The primary long-term source of O&M funding is fare revenue,” the report states. “This is a relatively unusual situation,” the analysis concedes. It claims its numbers can be justified because trains will be based in Manchester, thus ending the practice of starting and ending each trip with an empty train emerging from or returning to Boston.

In the study’s “medium ridership scenario,” which serves as the basis for its revenue projections, fares cover 81.5% of operating and maintenance costs. Its low COVID impact scenario assumes that fares would cover 93.4 percent of O&M costs. Its high COVID impact scenario assumes fares would cover 58.4% of costs. 

To get a sense of how realistic these figures might be, one can look at MBTA commuter rail revenues and expenses. In fiscal year 2019, the last year before the COVID pandemic, operating revenue covered 43% of MBTA commuter rail operating expenses, according to the MBTA’s audited financial report. In fiscal year 2022, revenues covered just 14% of MBTA commuter rail operating expenses, according to that year’s audited financial report. 

Such large declines in fare revenues and ridership have occurred nationwide. In San Francisco, fares covered roughly 2/3 of Bay Area Rapid Transit’s operating expenses for the 2019 fiscal year. By the 2021 fiscal year, fares covered just 12% of operating expenses, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

In January, Mass Transit Magazine reported that “commuter ridership is disappearing.”

“Transit ridership across the U.S. has been sitting steadily at about 65 percent to 70 percent of pre-pandemic ridership across transit networks, according to data from the Transit App. This is an improvement from a year ago, when ridership hovered around 55 percent of pre-pandemic ridership.

“These sorts of headwinds, driven by significant changes in the way workers and others move around urban areas, will prompt transit agencies to rethink service delivery and other aspects of their operations, say experts.”

The DOT’s 2023 financial analysis assumes that fares will cover nearly all the operating costs of the Lowell-Manchester line even as subsidies cover nearly all of the MBTA’s existing commuter rail operating costs post-COVID.

MBTA commuter rail costs rose by 5.8% from 2019-2222 while operating revenue decreased by 66%, agency audits show. This has led to a rethinking of the MBTA’s offerings.

“We’re going to have to figure out a way to operate with lower fare revenue, and it remains to be seen how much lower it’s going to be,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak told The Wall Street Journal last March.

The state’s projected operating subsidy totals $25.2 million during the first three years of operation, as ridership is scaled up. After that, it is projected to settle at $200,000 per year. But if fare revenue doesn’t materialize as planned, the state subsidy would remain high, potentially consuming millions of dollars per year. This backup state subsidy ultimately makes state taxpayers the default financier of the rail line’s ongoing operations. If ticket revenues don’t materialize, the state would be stuck either covering those losses or ending service. 

Local station costs

“The financial analysis assumes that the cities of Manchester and Nashua fund the construction, O&M, and renewal costs of their respective downtown stations,” the report states.

It anticipates construction of a Manchester station at an estimated $51 million, including financing costs, and a Nashua station at an estimated $31 million, including financing costs. 

It assumes that Manchester will use meals & rooms tax revenue and Nashua will use local property tax revenue to pay for most of the construction. If taxpayers and elected officials refuse, then what? 

The report states that the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport would pay to build the proposed airport station. It does not explain how Nashua’s second station would be funded. 

Population density

Any study of commuter rail viability should start with population density. It’s considered a rule of thumb that a city needs a core population density near 10,000 people per square mile to make commuter rail successful. Yet nowhere does the financial analysis mention population density, on which a rail system’s financial viability depends.

That’s a serious omission. As we’ve noted before, Boston has a population density of 13,967.7 people per square mile, and Lowell ’s density is 8,489.8 per square mile. Manchester’s density is just 3,496 people per square mile. It doesn’t have a single zip code with a density of even 4,000 per square mile. Nashua’s density is just 2,961.7 per square mile. 

U.S. Census data put Manchester’s population density at 3,310 per square mile in 2010. In the decade from 2010-2020, the city’s density grew by just 186 people per square mile. At that rate, Manchester will reach 10,000 people per square mile in 350 years. If the city’s growth rate somehow doubled, it would still take 125 years to get to 10,000 people per square mile.

The report makes no effort to explain how a commuter rail line could be viable over the long term while serving such low-density cities as Nashua and Manchester.

Shifting work-life patterns

In addition to the density issue, there are numerous questions regarding the suitability of building a commuter rail line from a sparsely populated state into a shrinking city at a time when technology is changing the way we work. 

Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston, lost 28,000 people from 2020-2022, Census data show. Boston commercial vacancies early this year hit their highest rates in a decade, as demand for office space fell.

Several studies of Boston and Massachusetts commuters and employers (see here and here) have found significant declines in both mass transit use and the desire to commute via mass transit to offices in Boston. 

Most people want to work from home at least part of the week. People are fleeing many large cities, including Boston, in search of a more suburban lifestyle. Transit agencies around the country are factoring these shifting preference into their future plans. If these shifts represent a permanent change in American work and commuting patterns, as polls and changing behaviors suggest, now would be a particularly bad time to build a new point-to-point commuter rail line. 

Opportunity costs

The 2023 study proposes that the state would cover between $147.6 million and $185.4 million of the anticipated construction costs. If spent on commuter rail, that money could not be used for other state transportation priorities, of which there is no shortage. 

For comparison, Exit 4a in Londonderry is projected to cost $61.6 million to build, and the benefits are concentrated entirely in New Hampshire. This exit on I-93 is expected to boost economic development in Derry and Londonderry, reduce congestion and improve safety on local roads. The state could finance almost three projects of this scale for the high-end cost of the Capital Corridor rail line. And the benefits would be spread among a large share of  New Hampshire’s population, rather than split among employers in Manchester, Nashua and Boston.

The state’s current 10-year Transportation Plan dedicates $151.49 million to bridges this year. Bridge repair costs over the next decade exceed $900 million. When that level of need exists, it’s hard to justify spending more than a year’s worth of bridge repairs on a new rail line that would serve few people.

If the state were to create a list of the best possible ways to spend $185 million in transportation dollars, a rail line for the dwindling percentage of people who want to commute daily between Manchester and Boston would not make the top ten. The state has much higher transportation priorities.


The DOT’s own analysis shows that there is no scenario in which building a $792 million commuter rail line in the near future makes financial sense for New Hampshire. Construction and operating costs are rising much faster than inflation, while projected ridership is collapsing. Commuter rail does not extend from Lowell, Mass., into New Hampshire for good reason. It’s too costly and would serve too few people. This draft study confirms that.

Download a pdf copy of this policy brief; DOT Capital Corridor 2023 Brief

Editor’s note: Some of the percentage increase figures in the initial post contained typos. They have been fixed.

As legislators consider more proposals to expand Medicaid eligibility or services to specific populations, they ought to consider that Medicaid is both like and unlike the universe.

Like the universe, Medicaid is expanding faster than it should be. Unlike the universe, there’s no scientific possibility of Medicaid expanding forever. (Maybe the universe can’t either.)

Two bills moving through the Legislature this session are based on increasingly questionable assumptions about federal spending commitments. House Bill 282 would end the five-year waiting period for Medicaid eligibility for “lawfully residing” children and pregnant immigrants. House Bill 565 would extend Medicaid benefits for new mothers from two months after birth to a full year. 

These expansions come as New Hampshire enjoys a temporary, pandemic-related increase in its Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), which is the share of Medicaid spending the federal government covers. For the duration of the federally declared COVID-19 emergency, 56.2% of New Hampshire Medicaid spending is covered by the federal government. When the emergency declaration ends on May 11, New Hampshire’s FMAP rate reverts to its normal level of 50%. 

(Incidentally, the additional 6.2 percentage points of additional federal funding during the pandemic emergency was given on the condition that the state not conduct eligibility determinations. That waiver of eligibility requirements will end when the emergency ends, which will affect an estimated 72,500 current enrollees. The pandemic enrollment increase has been so costly to the state that it has pumped additional federal funds into the Medicaid program.)

Legislators tend to assume that the default 50% rate will continue indefinitely. But the federal budget situation could prompt reductions in the federal contribution, something the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently suggested. 

The CBO this month projected that the federal deficit will nearly double from $1.4 trillion to $2.7 trillion in the next decade, and the federal debt held by the public would reach a record 118% of Gross Domestic Product. 

This record debt is driven by historically high federal spending, which is projected to increase from 23.7% of GDP to 24.9% of GDP by 2033. Federal spending has exceeded 24% of GDP only during World War II, the 2008 financial crisis, and the COVID pandemic. The CBO projects it to reach this level again within the next decade simply due to regular budget outlays. 

Federal revenues, meanwhile, are projected to remain around 18% of GDP through 2033. 

That unsustainable course will put pressure on Congress to cut costs or raise taxes or both. Anticipating this, the CBO in December offered suggestions for reducing the federal deficit. In the area of health care spending, the CBO suggested that Congress “establish caps on federal spending for Medicaid” and “reduce federal Medicaid matching rates.” 

Such actions are not out of the question. As the Congressional Research Service puts it, “Medicaid was designed to provide coverage to groups with a wide range of health care needs that historically were excluded from the private health insurance market.” But the program has grown over the years to cover people who could find coverage in the private market. 

By routinely expanding Medicaid benefits and eligibility, lawmakers have grown the program’s outlays from $206.2 billion at the turn of this century to $748 billion in federal fiscal year 2021. Medicaid accounts for 17% of U.S. health care expenditures. 

These expansions are unsustainable for both the state and federal governments. Eventually, some level of financial discipline, however small or limited, will have to be imposed. Clawing back Medicaid spending is politically easier than touching Social Security or Medicare. That is especially true after Medicaid has grown to cover people who could find alternative insurance coverage. Given those realities, current levels of federal Medicaid spending cannot be taken for granted.

Any discussion of expanding Medicaid coverage or eligibility should start with the understanding that current spending levels are unsustainable, and increasing those levels just accelerates the date of reckoning.

In the midst of an acute labor shortage that has pushed wages to new highs, a few legislators have opted to introduce another bill to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage. 

House Bill 57 would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, then tie it to the inflation rate, ensuring regular, automatic increases. 

New Hampshire has about 48,000 job openings, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and only about 20,000 unemployed persons. 

This imbalance between job openings and available labor has persisted for years. And that has driven wages in New Hampshire higher. New Hampshire Employment Security put the mean average wage at $30.12 an hour in last year’s report (based on 2021 data). In 2019, it was $25.94. 

The average entry-level wage in the 2022 report was $14.36, up from $11.80 in 2019. 

Competitive pressure is pushing wages up to the point that dishwashers have moved out of the list of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the state. The lowest average wage in the 2022 report belonged to gambling dealers, at $11.59 an hour. Food preparation workers were above that at $12,10 an hour. 

With a booming economy and a severe labor shortage combining to raise wages naturally, the market is already moving compensation in low-paying occupations toward the $15 an hour goal. House Bill 57 would mandate a $13.50 minimum wage by this September. Fast food restaurants regularly advertise jobs well above that rate now, and food prep workers on average are quickly approaching that level. 

Into this discussion, researchers last month dropped yet another study showing that minimum wage increases have costs that can make people who work in the lowest-paid occupations worse off. 

Researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities School of Public Health found that minimum wage increases reduced the number of employers who offered health insurance. 

“We find that a $1 increase in minimum wages is associated with a 0.90 percentage point (p.p.) decrease in the percentage of employers offering health insurance, largely driven by small employers and employers with more low-wage employees. A $1 increase is also associated with a 1.80 p.p. increase in the prevalence of plans with a deductible and three percent increase in average deductibles.”

Though minimum wage hikes led to reductions in employer-sponsored health insurance, they did not lead to increases in uninsured rates, the authors found. That is “likely explained by an increase in Medicaid enrollment,” they wrote.

This study comes on top of decades’ worth of research that, on the whole, tends to find a negative effect on employment — particularly for younger workers and those with less education — from minimum wage increases. 

The preponderance of research on minimum wage increases shows that government-mandated compensation increases are not cost-free. Forcing employers to raise wages in ways that are unrelated to productivity tends to result in shifting resources from other parts of the business. That can include eliminating hours, positions or benefits.

Advocates for high minimum wages seem to assume that employers, including small businesses, simply have troves of cash reserves lying around and pay what they do out of stinginess. But employers generally aren’t sitting on piles of treasure like Smaug in his cave under Lonely Mountain.

And employers can’t simply manufacture more money whenever they want to spend more. Only the government can do that. Employers have to make trade-offs. If the government makes them pay more for low-skilled labor, they’ll take that money from somewhere else. And the results won’t necessarily be net positive for the low-skilled workers legislators intended to help. Usually, the opposite is true. 

In 2019, the state created a Housing Appeals Board to offer a speedier resolution to land use disputes between property owners and local boards. Though the cases that have gone to the board have been resolved quickly, a large backlog of cases remains in Superior Court.

Richard Head, government relations coordinator for the state judicial branch, told the House Judiciary Committee last month that the volume of land use cases in state courts has not noticeably changed since the Housing Appeals Board began operations in 2020. It turns out that there are so many legal challenges to local land use decisions that the state Superior Court has a constant load of between 60-100 cases at any given time, according to the judicial branch.

It can take more than a year for a landowner or developer just to get a court hearing if a local board improperly denies a building permit. It can take up to three years before the courts reach a decision, developers say. That long wait gives local regulatory bodies an upper hand in these disputes. 

The legal playing field should not be tilted in favor of government. Private citizens, whether homeowners challenging the rejection of a garage or developers challenging the denial of a commercial project, should have quick and ready access to the court system when they suspect a local board of illegally denying them the use of their property. (Local governments deserve the same if they suspect a developer of violating local ordinances.)

Within the court system, there are two obstacles. One, there aren’t enough Superior Court judges. The judicial branch is 3.5 judges short of being able to keep up with its existing caseload, according to its own presentations to legislators. Two, land use cases tend to be large and highly complex, which slows them down. 

New Hampshire has more than 200 unique zoning codes, many of them exceeding 100 pages, according to testimony by state Rep. Ben Ming, D-Hollis, an attorney who practices real estate law. 

The judges who hear these cases say the parties would be better served if a single judge could be assigned to hear all land use cases. 

“When asked, the judges in our Superior Court described these types of cases as complex,” Head told the House Judiciary Committee in January. The judges “require a great deal of time to get up to speed” when they receive one of these cases. 

“And one of the things the judges commented on was if we only see these as part of our regular docket and mixed in and occasionally, it is just a greater lift to get up to speed again and to get refamiliarize yourself not only with the case itself but with the technical aspects of it and the law, which is also, as you’ve heard, very complicated, long, and detailed,” Head said. “So to be able to consolidate these types of cases, the complexity of these cases, into a single docket would just have inherent benefits associated with doing so.”

Head’s explanation came in his testimony in January for House Bill 347, which would create a land use docket in the state Superior Court and fund the hiring of an additional justice to hear those cases. Importantly, the bill covers all local land use regulations, not just housing, so commercial and industrial property would be included. The state has a shortage of industrial buildings too, though it’s not as well known or as severe as the housing shortage. 

Creating a land use docket would accomplish five goals:

  1. Create within the judicial branch a level of expertise on these complex cases that would benefit all parties — the local boards, the property owners, and the justice who handles the cases;
  1. Reduce the long backlog of land use appeals that delay projects and discourage wronged parties from going to court;
  1. Create a level of consistency and continuity on complex land use cases that local boards and property owners could use to guide their future decision-making;
  1. Reduce backlogs of other civil cases, as the complex land use cases go to a newly hired judge;
  1. Generate economic benefits by reducing the amount of time and money local boards, property owners and developers spend in court, freeing them to spend more time concentrating on their core activities. 

Adding a land use docket to the Superior Court, and hiring a justice to handle the cases, will not solve the state’s housing and industrial real estate shortages. Better local land use regulations are the answer. But a separate court docket would greatly improve the dispute resolution process, level the playing field, and have the additional benefit of speeding up court cases in general and reducing the costs for property owners, developers and local governments. 

When considering commuter rail in New Hampshire, here’s thought experiment that offers a great place to start. Should the Massachusetts Bay Colony have built commuter rail in Revolutionary-era Boston?

Assuming the technology had been available, would this have made any sense?

We can get to an answer by looking at the primary obstacle to building a successful commuter rail line in New Hampshire today. 

Any debate about commuter rail has to begin with basic demographic data because population density is the key to successful commuter rail service.

The general rule for light rail is that cities need a population density of about 10,000 people per square mile to generate enough riders to make rail a viable alternative to automobiles. (See here and here.)

“The performance of a rail or BRT [bus rapid transit] line is directly related to the surrounding densities,” writes author Christof Spieler. “For example, the most successful light-rail systems in the United States—San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Newark, Jersey City, Buffalo, and Houston—serve large areas of over 10,000 people per square mile.

“Put transit in densely populated places. [emphasis in original] The fundamental math of density leads to an obvious rule: put transit where the people are. Successful transit needs to go where population densities are highest.”

Some cities outside of the United States have commuter rail and overall densities well below 10,000 people per square mile. But they tend to be large metropolitan areas with compact, walkable, dense downtown areas. 

For example, looking at the city as a whole, Calgary is roughly as dense as Manchester. Calgary’s density is 3,442 people per square mile, while Manchester’s is 3,496 per square mile. Calgary has light rail and a street railway. But Calgary is also a city of more than 1 million with a dense downtown of about 7,778 people per square mile. It’s the fifth densest downtown in Canada. 

Manchester doesn’t have a single zip code with a density of even 4,000 people per square mile. 

Nashua’s population density is only 2,961.7 people per square mile.

Commuter rail boosters seem to believe that Nashua, Manchester and Lowell, Mass., can all support rail because they’re fairly close in population. Nashua has about 91,000 people, while Manchester and Lowell have about 115,000 people each.

But these totals mask huge variations in density.

Lowell’s population density is 8,489.8 people per square mile, even denser than downtown Calgary. That makes it much more hospitable to light rail than Manchester or Nashua. 

Boston’s population density, by comparison, is 13,967.7 people per square mile.

And that gets us back to our question about colonial Boston. 

In The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, author Stacy Schiff notes that Adams lived in a Boston that spanned four square miles, with a population of 16,000. (Boston had about 16,000 people from the 1740s through the 1780s.) That’s 4,000 people per square mile, which makes colonial Boston denser than present-day Manchester. 

Few would argue that commuter rail would make sense in colonial Boston. But lots of people argue that commuter rail makes sense in Nashua and Manchester, which are much less densely populated than colonial Boston was. 

The hard reality is that no municipality in New Hampshire is close to boasting a population density anywhere near the level needed to support successful commuter rail. And that will be true for a very long time. 

U.S. Census data put Manchester’s population density at 3,310 per square mile in 2010. In the decade from 2010-2020, the city’s density grew by just 186 people per square mile. 

At that rate, Manchester will reach 10,000 people per square mile in 350 years.

If the city’s growth rate somehow doubled, it would still take 125 years to get to 10,000 people per square mile.

Building, or even preparing to build, a commuter rail line now makes about as much sense as telling Paul Revere to take the T to Lexington. 

(By the way, it took Revere about an hour to get to Lexington from Charlestown by horse. Today it takes about half an hour by car. By bus? About two hours.) 

“In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing.”

— Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck

New Hampshire renters have endured steadily rising prices for many years. Their frustration has reached the point that some lawmakers and activists are advocating a policy once unthinkable in the Granite State: rent control. 

The sense of helplessness is real. From 2013-2022, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire rose from $1,076 to $1,558, an increase of 45% according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority’s 2022 Rental Rental Cost Survey. This is well above the inflation rate. Had the median New Hampshire rent tracked the national Consumer Price Index over the last decade, it would be about $200 lower.

Rent control is being offered as a remedy for this desperate situation. But more than 75 years’ worth of research into the effects of rent control reveals a disastrous record. 

Establishing a government-mandated cap on rents or rent increases does not suddenly abolish the real world and the economic laws that apply to it. Investors will continue to seek strong returns, and if government artificially constrains their return on one form of investment, they will seek it elsewhere.

No one has to be a landlord. People choose to build and own apartments in anticipation of earning a significant return on their investment. Studies on the effects of rent control laws show that they tend to make communities worse off by reducing investment in rental properties, shrinking the supply of apartments, raising market rents, lowering overall property values, and locking renters into sub-par units while discouraging them from building their own wealth through homeownership. 

Here are a few of the demonstrated harms caused by government rent control policies:

  • St. Paul, Minn., passed a rent control ordinance in 2021. A University of Southern California study the next year found that “rent control caused property values to fall by 6-7%, for an aggregate loss of $1.6 billion.” It further found that “the tenants who gained the most from rent control had higher incomes and were more likely to be white, while the owners who lost the most had lower incomes and were more likely to be minorities. For properties with high-income owners and low-income tenants, the transfer of wealth was close to zero. Thus, to the extent that rent control is intended to transfer wealth from high-income to low-income households, the realized impact of the law was the opposite of its intention.”
  • A 2018 study of rent control in San Francisco found that the imposition of rent controls reduced the supply of rental housing by 15%, raised rents by 5%, and fueled the conversion of lower-end rental units to higher-end condominiums. The authors found that “landlords of properties impacted by the law change respond over the long term by substituting to other types of real estate, in particular by converting to condos and redeveloping buildings so as to exempt them from rent control. This substitution toward owner occupied and high-end new construction rental housing likely fueled the gentrification of San Francisco, as these types of properties cater to higher income individuals. Indeed, the combination of more gentrification and helping rent controlled tenants remain in San Francisco has led to a higher level of income inequality in the city overall.”
  • From 1970-1994, Cambridge, Mass., imposed strict rent controls and made it hard for the owners of rent-controlled properties to convert them to other uses. Those ordinances were abolished with the passage of a 1994 referendum banning rent control in Massachusetts. This led to increased apartment construction. “Over the next several years, direct dollar investments in housing units, as measured by building-permit filings, more than doubled on an annual basis,” a 2012 study found.
  • A separate 2007 study of the effects in Massachusetts found that rent control did lower rents in covered buildings, but also “led to deterioration in the quality of rental units” and encouraged apartment building owners to “shift units away from rental status.” 
  • A 2000 study of the effects of rent control on tenants found that rent control raised market rents and “the average benefit to tenants in regulated units is negative. This implies that, on average, tenants in rent regulated units would be better off if these controls had never been established.”
  • A 2019 study of rent control in Berlin, Germany found that rent control “reduces rents in the controlled sector, but also leads to rent increases for uncontrolled units. And it “reduced the propensity to move house within rent controlled areas, but only among high-income households.”
  • A 1989 University of Pennsylvania study of rent control in New York City found that capping rents discouraged homeownership, helped whites more than minorities, and reduced investment in and upkeep of rent-controlled units. In short, rent control lowered the quality of apartments while simultaneously discouraging renters from becoming homeowners. “The expected rent control benefits had a significantly negative influence on the propensity to own. That is, consumers with large expected rent control benefits had lower demands for homeownership.”
  • A 2009 review of the economic literature on rent control found that “economic research quite consistently and predominantly frowns on rent control.” It also found that the effect on homelessness was inconclusive. “Several empirical studies find no clear relationship between rent control and homelessness,” according to the review. Some studies found that rent control increased homelessness, others that it had no clear effect or reduced homelessness. Given the mixed results, rent control should not be considered a solution to the problem of homelessness.

The negative effects of rent control are so thoroughly documented that there’s almost no disagreement among economists, left or right, on the issue. “The analysis of rent control is among the best-understood issues in all of economics. Its known adverse effects illustrate the principles of supply and demand,” as Paul Krugman, the left-wing economist and New York Times columnist, put it.

Supply and demand also explains New Hampshire’s high rents. The chart below shows building permits for multifamily housing going back to 1999. 

Though building permits have slowly increased, they haven’t kept up with demand. As a result, New Hampshire’s rental vacancy rate fell from 3.4% in 2013 to 0.5% in 2022. Our high rents are not caused by greed or avarice or the wickedness of capitalism. They’re the direct result of a decades-long slow-down in apartment construction. 

The remedy is not for government to attempt to cap apartment prices. It is for government to permit the construction of new rental units. 

Download this policy brief as a pdf: Rent Control Policy Brief 2-2023

Editor’s note: The percentage increase in the median two-bedroom apartment rent in New Hampshire from 2013-2022 is 45%. The initial post inadvertently had the figure for the five-year increase (26%) pasted in the spot for the 10-year figure. 

Editor’s note: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, educational entrepreneurship has boomed nationwide. New Hampshire has experienced significant growth in the number of entrepreneurs and innovators willing to take on the daunting challenge of building a new educational ecosystem. This year, we’ll be highlighting some of the people and organizations that have begun expanding the education marketplace in the Granite State, as well as the obstacles they face in creating non-traditional learning environments. We start with Becky Anderson and Prax Village, a Seacoast community for home-schooling families. We hope you enjoy these profiles and stories of market innovation.

Prax Village: A thriving co-learning community
By Becky Anderson

Prax Village is a community of liberty-minded homeschooling families in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire. After two full years, our current member base includes more than 100 kids of all ages, from about 50 families. But Prax Village looked much different when it was established in the autumn of 2020.

A small group of like-minded families had collectively purchased and, through many volunteer hours and efforts, renovated a private community center that we call the Praxeum. The building and beautiful outdoor space on our property were used for charitable events, meetups, classes, and co-working. The Praxeum’s founders were at different stages in raising our families, yet we found ourselves always returning to a common goal: to form a support network for parents navigating the choice to raise our children outside of the conventional school system, and a strong, trusted social group for our kids as they grew.

In 2020, government-imposed COVID restrictions unceremoniously canceled many of our extracurriculars and homeschool groups, while also closing homeschoolers’ typical gathering places like libraries, museums and indoor playgrounds. Many new and long-time homeschoolers felt displaced and found themselves searching for in-person opportunities. Kids (and parents) really missed interacting with each other in a normal and natural way.

We already had a location, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome, and knew it was the right time to share it with more families, so Prax Village was launched. For an affordable monthly fee, members had just a couple of opportunities per week to meet at the Praxeum, along with seasonal special events. We trusted that this simple start would grow into richer and more robust offerings, and it has.

Through steady and organic growth, Prax Village has become a community that has greatly exceeded our initial expectations and continues to evolve and improve.

Prax Village members include kids from babies to teens, and many types of homeschoolers: brand new and seasoned, religious and secular. A wide array of educational philosophies can be found here. Many members join after moving from other states to New Hampshire for its high quality of life and increased personal freedom. Because we share common principles of liberty and a desire to raise responsible and thoughtful individuals, our members make up a strong and supportive community despite our diversity of educational styles.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of parent volunteers, Prax Village now offers multiple classes and clubs five days a week, with a year-round calendar of 8-week sessions. We owe our success to members’ generosity with their time and knowledge. Over the past year, the schedule has included Spanish, soccer, book club, chess club, LEGO club, multiple art classes, music appreciation and chemistry — and that’s only a partial list!

We aim to cater to a wide variety of interests, from weekly Toddler Time for ages 2-4 with rotating parent leaders to a multi-year academic deep dive into Greek classics for ages 11 and older. Most families come to the Praxeum one, two, or three times a week for the supplemental classes that interest them most, and our 8-week sessions give everyone a chance to try out different things and maintain a flexible schedule.

We have established our own unique set of seasonal traditions — a Valentine Exchange, Freecoast Egg Hunt, Midsummer Potluck, Halloween Trunk or Treat, and Enlightenment: A Winter Solstice Celebration.

Organizers also create fun opportunities around the region exclusively for Prax Village members, like our field trip to the New Hampshire Farm Museum or sailing classes with the Gundalow Company. We have held food drives and toy drives, and seasonal clothing swaps with leftover clothes donated to the Pass Along Project. We are even beginning to see more time carved out for parents to connect and recharge, like Ladies’ Book Club and Anarcraft meetups.

In September, we tried something new and, for one weekend only, we transformed the Praxeum into Prax Museum: A Pop-Up, Hands-On, Kid-Made Science Center. Prax Village members invited friends, family and fellow homeschoolers to explore physics, chemistry, light, electricity and other amazing natural phenomena by interacting with dozens of exhibits and demonstrations. Popular exhibits included the impressive full-room pinhole camera, the Bernoulli blower, colorful shadows, and tricky goggles that turned the world backwards and upside down. Every exhibit was an opportunity to play with science and learn together.

Prax Village differs from the typical homeschooling co-op. We avoid long waitlists and limited enrollment. Because we are able to adjust our programming choices according to size and member demographics, new families can join at any time. We don’t provide core academics, as we understand that the parent is the expert in their children’s unique learning needs.

We aren’t a drop-off program. In part, this decision was made to avoid regulations and licensing, but by including parents in all that we do, we encourage strong friendships to form between whole families rather than only the children. Our large, weekly, unstructured gathering is an important social time for parents and kids alike.

With so many families leaving the public school system in search of other educational options, this is an exciting time for homeschoolers, and New Hampshire is the best place to be! Prax Village is positioned to continue leading the way as a community for liberty-minded homeschoolers in our state. If you would like more information about Prax Village or to become a member, visit

Becky Anderson is founder of Prax Village Homeschool Community.