Legislators are again considering a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage through a series of automatic annual hikes. The House of Representatives will vote Thursday on House Bill 1322, which would institute an immediate 31% increase in the state minimum wage, then compel additional increases over the next five years.

HB 1322 would require employers in the state to pay their employees no less than the following wages, or the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour), whichever happens to be higher at the time:

  • $9.50 an hour starting September 1, 2024
  • $11.00 an hour starting January 1, 2025
  • $12.50 an hour starting January 1, 2026
  • $14.00 an hour starting January 1, 2027
  • $15.50 an hour starting January 1, 2028
  • $17.00 an hour starting January 1, 2029

The bill further requires that the minimum wage be adjusted starting January 1, 2030, according to the increase in the cost of living per the Northeast Consumer Price Index put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. Department of Labor. (This means, in all likelihood, the minimum wage would only keep increasing.) 

New Hampshire doesn’t have its own minimum wage. The state defaults to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Nineteen other states either have not adopted their own minimum wages, have a minimum wage set below $7.25, or default to the federal minimum wage. All said, the federal minimum wage applies in 20 states, while 30 states and D.C. have adopted minimum wages above the $7.25 federal minimum.

With HB 1322, New Hampshire would join those 30 states and D.C. But the consequences would not be as rosy as supporters suggest.

How to make an $18 Big Mac

California and Connecticut are two of 22 states celebrated by advocates of higher minimum wages for setting high wage floors this year. It’s only February, and Californians are already bracing for their fast-food prices to jump thanks to a bump in the minimum wage to $20 an hour for fast-food workers. Business Insider reports, “To compensate for the extra cost of labor, restaurants like McDonald’s, Chipotle, and Jack In the Box plan to raise menu prices at their California stores.”

On January 1, Connecticut’s minimum wage was raised to $15.69 per hour and will adjust annually according to the federal employment cost index. Just three days later, Yahoo! Finance reported, “The recent uproar over a McDonald’s location in Darien, Connecticut, charging $18 for a Big Mac combo meal has sparked a nationwide debate on the escalating prices in the fast-food industry. Sam Learner’s viral post on X showcasing the exorbitant prices, including $19 for a Quarter Pounder meal and $17 for two cheeseburgers, has raised questions about the sustainability of such pricing in the industry.”

A 2021 New Hampshire Employment Security, Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau study found that raising the state’s minimum wage would generate similar increases in food prices here. Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour would lead to price levels rising by 7% in the food services and drinking places industry and 3.4% in the retail industry, the study found. 

When the government makes the cost of labor more expensive, employers have to compensate in the form of raising prices for consumers. And as prices increase at fast-food restaurants, grocery stores, and retail chains, the most vulnerable consumers are the most negatively affected. 

Who earns the minimum wage?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only about one million workers, or 1.3% of all hourly paid workers in the country, earned wages at or below the federal minimum in 2022. Unsurprisingly, minimum-wage workers tend to be young and just starting out, as workers under the age of 25 make up roughly 45% of those paid at or below the federal minimum wage, despite accounting for only 20% of all hourly paid workers. 

Proposals to raise the minimum wage typically incorporate the assumption that all workers currently making the minimum wage are stuck there for life. Given that most minimum-wage jobs are entry-level, however, it’s hardly surprising that two-thirds of minimum-wage workers earn more within a year of employment, according to the Heritage Foundation and the National Bureau of Economic Research

In 2022, according to BLS data, 1,000 Granite Staters made the federal minimum wage (almost certainly all service industry employees earning tips or individuals with severe disabilities who can’t reach productivity levels employers would typically demand). Another 4,000 made below the minimum wage. Federal law allows certain employees, such as vocational education students and full-time students working in certain fields, to be paid below the federal minimum wage. These 5,000 workers amounted to just 0.5% of the New Hampshire workforce and 1.2% of all hourly paid workers in the state. 

This small group is highly atypical in today’s job market. According to the New Hampshire Employment Security, Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, the average entry-level hourly wage in the state is $15.36 as of June 2023. What’s more, among the bottom 10 wage-earning occupations in New Hampshire, the lowest-paying jobs are dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers, earning an average of $11.69 as of May 2022. 

The story of the minimum wage in New Hampshire is the same as it’s been for years, which is that the market has done what legislators wanted to do: lift wages in the lowest-paid occupations. In other words, raising the minimum wage in New Hampshire is the epitome of a “solution” in search of a problem. 

Increase in unemployment

Fundamentally, minimum-wage laws are a form of government-mandated price controls, which have real consequences on supply and demand. Just as price ceilings in the form of rent control lead to a decrease in the supply of housing but an increase in demand, price floors in the form of minimum-wage laws lead to an increase in the supply of labor but a decrease in the demand for it. 

As economist Thomas Sowell put it in Basic Economics, “By the simplest and most basic economics, a price artificially raised tends to cause more to be supplied and less to be demanded than when prices are left to be determined by supply and demand in a free market. The result is a surplus, whether the price that is set artificially high is that of farm produce or labor.” 

And a surplus of labor inevitably means higher unemployment. Of the 20 states (plus D.C.) with the highest unemployment rates, 16 of them have adopted minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage. When the U.S. Congress was considering a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2021, the Congressional Budget Office estimated at the time that 1.4 million workers nationwide would be put out of a job as a result. 

Such a strong correlation makes sense when you remember that a government’s edict doesn’t change basic economics. In the case of a minimum wage, just because the government forces employers to pay a certain amount of money for an hour’s worth of work doesn’t mean that the employer magically has enough money to pay all his or her employees that new government-imposed wage, nor does it mean that all his or her employees’ productivity is even worth that new wage.

The most disadvantaged workers—employees who were gainfully employed before the government made it illegal to pay them below a certain amount—are the most negatively impacted by raising the minimum wage. That’s an unavoidable tradeoff of a policy that forces employers to decide which employees he or she can afford to keep.  

High minimum wages also favor big corporations, which have deeper pockets, over small businesses. They also limit all employers’ abilities to create entry-level jobs by making it more expensive to hire lower-skilled workers.

New Hampshire boasts the lowest poverty rate (7.2%) and the sixth-lowest unemployment rate (2.5%) in the country, but those figures would worsen if the state makes it more expensive to hire. This was demonstrated by the state’s own study just three years ago. 

The state’s 2021 study on the effect of a $15 minimum-wage hike concluded that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would have significant negative effects. A $15 minimum wage would, by 2031, cause employment in New Hampshire to be 5,847 lower, New Hampshire’s GDP to be $800 million lower, and the state’s population and labor force to drop by 9,630 and 6,023 people, respectively, due to fewer job opportunities, than if the minimum wage had not been increased. 

The same study found that such an increase would cost employers $1.08 billion over 2019 wage costs—a 3.1% increase throughout the New Hampshire economy—borne heavily by an 18.6% increase in wage costs in the leisure and hospitality industries and a 20% increase in the food services and drinking places industry. The end result is that the lowest-wage workers would experience the highest number of job losses, concentrated mostly in the food services and drinking places, leisure and hospitality, and retail trade industries. Such reductions in employment would all but offset the mandated wage increase, as any immediate aggregate increases in personal income would eventually cancel out and begin declining due to job losses.

So, when considering raising the minimum wage, state lawmakers should ask themselves the following: What’s preferable for an employee, a job that pays less than $15 (or $17 or $20) an hour, or no job at all?

The NH Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH) recently released The State of Homelessness in New Hampshire Annual Report 2022, and the results are understandably concerning. 

According to annual Point-in-Time (PIT) counts, statewide homelessness grew from 1,382 people in 2019 to 1,605 in 2022, a 16% increase. 

While sheltered homelessness (people living in shelters) increased by about 3% over those four years, both chronic and unsheltered homelessness increased by a whopping 71% and 125%, respectively. 

According to data collected throughout the year using the state’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the numbers are equally startling. The state’s homeless population grew by about 32% from 4,554 people in 2020 to 6,031 in 2022. 

“The rate of homelessness in New Hampshire increased from 330.6 per 100,000 residents in 2020 to 432.3 in 2022, reflecting a rate increase of 30.8%,” the report states. Over those three years, chronic homelessness rose by 30% and unsheltered homelessness rose by 41% using HMIS.

Homelessness is undoubtedly a multivariate problem—an issue involving a handful of variables where not one single “solution” will eliminate the problem entirely. But a severe shortage of rental housing is a major factor in New Hampshire. 

“There is simply not enough available housing to meet the need,” the NHCEH states in its report. 

A state’s rental vacancy rate is the percentage of residential rental units in a given area that are currently available. A statewide vacancy rate of 5% is emblematic of a balanced market (supply meeting demand). 

New Hampshire’s vacancy rate is 0.8% for all units (0.6% for two-bedroom units), according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority

The state vacancy rate has been under 1% for four out of the last five years. The last time it was at least 5% was 2009–2010. Six of New Hampshire’s 10 counties (Belknap, Carroll, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Rockingham, and Sullivan) have vacancy rates below the statewide figure of 0.8% this year.

Our research has established that local land-use regulations are the main culprit holding back the supply of housing in the state. Parking requirements, minimum lot sizes, exclusionary zoning, and other constraints are examples of land-use regulations that choke the supply of housing by making it more costly, difficult, or impossible to build. Municipal restrictions on rental housing can be severe in some locations.

Multifamily housing is greatly restricted in many of the state’s 13 cities. Here are the percentages of buildable land on which multifamily housing is allowed in each New Hampshire city in 2023, according to the New Hampshire Zoning Atlas:

2-Family 3-Family 4-Family 5+-Family
Berlin 82% 40% 40% 40%
Claremont 87% 5% 5% 5%
Concord 22% 36% 36% 36%
Dover 82% 65% 65% 65%
Franklin 7% 7% 7% 7%
Keene 8% 9% 7% 7%
Laconia 28% 28% 28% 28%
Lebanon 14% 6% 6% 6%
Manchester 23% 21% 21% 21%
Nashua 57% 58% 58% 58%
Portsmouth 28% 30% 30% 30%
Rochester 72% 10% 10% 10%
Somersworth 14% 8% 8% 8%

Eight cities allow duplexes on 30% or less of their buildable land. Another nine allow multifamily housing of three units or more on 30% or less of their land. And these are after some zoning improvements were made over the last year. 

With a current shortage of more than 23,500 housing units, building more multifamily housing is critical to addressing homelessness. But prohibitive zoning laws in many municipalities get in the way. 

Reducing homelessness means increasing rental housing. Increasing rental housing means relaxing the local land-use regulations that severely restrict the development of rental housing. 

It’s no coincidence that as the state vacancy rate has consistently remained below 1%, rents—and homelessness—have increased. 

Median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the state has increased by 59% since 2014 to $1,764 in 2023. Rents have increased by 31% since 2019 alone.

Again, housing supply isn’t the only factor driving the increase in New Hampshire homelessness. Municipal officials also point to increases in substance use, addiction, and mental illness. But a larger supply of lower-priced homes and apartments would put housing within reach for many who struggle to stay off the streets. 

Illustrating the connection, research by the Pew Charitable Trusts found a strong connection between high rents and high levels of homelessness between 2017 and 2022. That study was consistent with findings from previous studies.  

One policy often proposed as a remedy for both homelessness and high rents is the government imposition of rent caps. For the second year in a row, state lawmakers have filed a bill to authorize municipalities to implement rent control measures.

House Bill 1362 would enable municipalities to enact ordinances limiting how much rents can be raised over a 12-month period. It’s pitched as a way to “stabilize rent increases.”

Price controls like this may be politically seductive, but they are economically harmful. Instituting rent control would have the same deterring effect on developers that burdensome zoning regulations already have. By reducing profitability, rent control would further reduce the supply of rental housing. So, instead of solving the state’s shortage of rental housing, it would only worsen the shortage. This would lead to increases in New Hampshire’s homeless population. 

It’s well established, as we’ve pointed out, that rent control laws reduce the supply of rental housing and tend to push market rents even higher. Rent control is not a solution. 

“[T]he people who are asking for rent control are very angry when they discover there is a shortage of apartments and a shortage of housing,” wrote economist Ludwig von Mises in Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow.

The problem with housing in New Hampshire isn’t “greedy” landlords or developers. It’s government policies that prevent or discourage landlords and developers from increasing supply. Get those regulations out of the way and the market will step in to meet the need. 



New Hampshire is the most economically free state in North America and in the United States, once again edging Florida to top every Canadian province, U.S. state and Mexican state as ranked by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s free-market think tank. 

The Fraser Institute’s 2023 Economic Freedom in North America report, released in partnership with the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, measures government spending, taxation and labor market restrictions using data from 2021, the most recent year of available comparable data.

New Hampshire surpassed Florida as having the highest level of economic freedom in the U.S., having scored 7.96 out of 10 in this year’s report. Rounding out the top five freest states are Florida (2nd), Tennessee (3rd), Texas (4th) and South Dakota (5th). Puerto Rico came in last with 2.85. The least free states were New York (50th), California and Vermont (tied for 48th), Oregon (47th) and Hawaii (46th).

The Granite State also topped the list of all states in North America, scoring 8.14 out of 10, followed by Florida (8.07), South Carolina (8.06), and then Idaho and Indiana, tied for fourth (8.05). Alberta is the highest-ranking Canadian province, tied for 31st place with a score of 7.90. 

“New Hampshire is proof for all of North America that economic freedom creates maximum opportunity and prosperity,” Josiah Bartlett Center President Andrew Cline said. “The formula is proven, and anyone can follow it. Even Vermont, if it wants to.” 

“The freest economies operate with comparatively less government interference, relying more on personal choice and markets to decide what’s produced, how it’s produced and how much is produced; as government imposes restrictions on these choices, there’s less economic freedom and less opportunity for prosperity,” said Fred McMahon, the Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute and report co-author.

The report includes an all-government ranking, which adds federal government policy to the index and includes the 50 U.S. states and the territory of Puerto Rico, 32 Mexican states, and 10 Canadian provinces.

Taking into account both federal and state policies, U.S. economic freedom declined from 2003 to 2011, began to recover, and then declined again after 2017. The last two years have seen the lowest levels of measured economic freedom in the U.S. in the last two decades. And while the U.S. remains more economically free than Canada, the gap is relatively small.

“The evidence is clear—lower levels of economic freedom are associated with less prosperity, slower economic growth, less investment, and fewer jobs and opportunities,” said Dean Stansel, economist and research associate professor at Southern Methodist University and co-author of the report.

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, and Ángel Carrión-Tavárez,  director of research and policy at the Instituto de Libertad Económica in Puerto Rico, 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.

See the full report at www.fraserinstitute.org/economic-freedom.

New Hampshire’s cores in key components of economic freedom (from 1 to 10 where a higher value indicates a higher level of economic freedom):

  • Government spending: 8.25
  • Taxes: 7.68
  • Labor Market Freedom: 7.60

About the Economic Freedom Index

Economic Freedom of North America measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries support economic freedom. This year’s publication ranks 93 provincial/state governments in Canada, the United States and Mexico. The report also updates data in earlier reports in instances where data has been revised.

For more information on the Economic Freedom Network, datasets and previous Economic Freedom of North America reports, visit www.fraserinstitute.org. And you can “Like” the Economic Freedom Network on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EconomicFreedomNetwork.

Download the entire report here: EFNA-2023-US.

 

It seems like it’s every week that there’s some new concerning statistic about the New Hampshire housing market.

This time it comes from CoreLogic’s U.S. Home Price Insights. At 9.4%, New Hampshire saw the highest home price growth in the country from August 2022 to August 2023. 

The top 10 states with the highest year-over-year increases in their home prices include four other New England states. The rest of the top 10 are Maine (8.9%), Vermont (8.9%), Rhode Island (8.4%), New Jersey (8.1%), Connecticut (8.1%), Wisconsin (7.0%), Missouri (6.7%), Indiana (6.6%), and Ohio (6.0%).

Nationally, from August 2022 to August 2023, home prices rose by 3.7%, which means that New Hampshire home prices increased by more than double the national average so far this year.

Not every state saw a jump in home prices over the last year. States like Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah, and Washington saw some of the largest year-over-year drops in their home prices. 

Many states in the Western U.S.—the three states along the Pacific Coast, as well as all Mountain states but New Mexico—saw annual declines in home prices.

Is this a coincidence? Hardly.

Several of those states happen to be building the most homes. According to an analysis of U.S. Census data by RubyHome Luxury Real Estate, Texas (22.5%), Utah (20.65%), Idaho (20%), Nevada (16.74%), and Colorado (16.30%) all rank among the top 10 states with the highest rate of new homes built (as a percent of their total housing stock) from 2010 to 2022.

Another analysis of U.S. Census data by Construction Coverage found similar results. By new housing units authorized per 1,000 existing homes, Mountain West states like Utah (26.7), Idaho (24.2), Arizona (19.4), Colorado (19.2), Nevada (15.3), and Washington (15.1), as well as Southern states like Texas (22.2) and Florida (21.1), were among the top builders of new housing in 2022. 

This spring, Montana’s legislature passed a slate of zoning reform bills to speed up home construction

Towards the bottom of the list are many of those states that experienced the highest year-over-year increases in their home prices, including New Hampshire. At 7.4 new housing units authorized per 1,000 existing homes, the Granite State ranked 38th in housing development in 2022. 

Similarly, Rhode Island (2.8), Connecticut (3.7), Ohio (5.9), Vermont (6.8), Missouri (7.5), and Wisconsin (7.7) all ranked in the bottom half, while Maine (9.5), Indiana (9.6), and New Jersey (9.8) were middle of the road. 

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Building Permits Survey (BPS) tracks the number of new privately owned housing units authorized by state each year. Before 2022, Arizona and Utah each saw 11 consecutive year-over-year increases in the number of housing units authorized, and Idaho saw 10. In total, Colorado, Texas, and Washington each had 10 year-over-year increases in the number of units authorized.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, saw seven total year-over-year increases in units authorized, the longest consecutive stretch being the four increases from 2012 to 2016.

New home construction is one of many different factors that play a role in determining home prices. But at a minimum, there’s a strong correlation between states that have higher rates of home building and states that have seen recent drops in their home prices (or relatively minor increases compared to many states in the Northeast). 

As we’ve shown, New Hampshire municipalities have made housing development very difficult with onerous land-use regulations that restrict supply and inflate home prices.

If Granite Staters want lower home prices, we can follow the lead of many Western states and build, baby, build!



Just five days after we published our review of what happens when states ban or levy high taxes on tobacco products, reporting out of California confirms what we already knew: Bans and high taxes fuel black markets.

California banned the sale of menthol cigarettes in 2021. And needless to say, it hasn’t gone according to plan. From the Orange County Register

When policymakers made the decision to prohibit menthol cigarettes, their aim was to reduce the supply of these products in the market. However, an underground market was ready to ensure a steady supply and continued use of these products.

How does the author, retired police officer and La Mirada, Calif., Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Sarega, know this happened? Researchers started dumpster diving. 

By analyzing the contents of trash in California, researchers began discovering the emergence of a menthol cigarette brand “Sheriff.” In fact, they figured out that “Sheriff” is the fifth-most popular discarded brand in the state. 

This inexplicable prominence, coupled with the cartel’s association with it in Mexico, strongly points towards their involvement in disseminating these illicit menthol cigarettes across California.

Moreover, California’s ban on menthol products has led to the emergence of other new cigarette products being sold across the state. 

Also, shortly after the ban took effect, other new cigarette products entered the market. These cigarettes looked just like traditional menthol products, with blue and green packaging, but somewhere on the pack is a designation that they are “non-menthol.” This was clearly meant to confuse menthol cigarette smokers to continue lighting up, and it appears to be working, with the study showing roughly 7% of discarded packs were these menthol “work-around” products.

The bottom line, as the reporting demonstrates, is that when the state uses the force of government to ban a multi-million-dollar product, that doesn’t eliminate the demand for the product. And as long as that exists, another actor—criminal networks—will work to supply it. 

In addition to the Mexican cartels, the Golden State has seen another actor emerge to fill the void and benefit from California’s prohibition. Illicit flavored vaping/e-cigarette products from China have also poured into California as a result. 

The survey unearthed another staggering statistic—98% of discarded vapes featured flavors, despite the FDA’s lack of approval for flavored e-cigarettes. Highly flavored brands like Elf Bar, Flum, and Funky Republic, mostly originating from China, should not even be on the market and are banned at the federal, state, and often local level. Yet these illegal products remain readily available across California.

Now, if these are the effects at the state level, just imagine the unintended consequences of this kind of policy on a national level. 

It’s no secret that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s federal menthol cigarette ban would be a gift to the black market.

 

Manchester is often seen as the center of multifamily housing in the state, while smaller cities and surrounding towns are viewed as less hospitable. But Manchester’s land-use regulations are unusually hostile to one relatively popular form of multifamily housing: duplexes. 

Two-family housing is permitted on only 18% of Manchester’s buildable area, according to the New Hampshire Zoning Atlas, created by the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College. 

That puts the Queen City smack in the middle of New Hampshire’s cities when it comes to permitting duplexes. 

Here are New Hampshire cities ranked by the percentage of buildable land on which duplexes are allowed:

Claremont: 86%

Dover: 57%

Rochester: 56%

Berlin: 45%

Nashua: 42%

Laconia: 19%

Manchester: 18%

Portsmouth: 17%

Concord: 15%

Lebanon: 14%

Somersworth: 10%

Keene: 6%

Franklin: 5%

Besides Bedford, the municipalities surrounding Manchester are much friendlier to duplexes:

Goffstown: 74%

Londonderry: 63%

Litchfield: 59%

Merrimack: 55%

Auburn: 31%

Hooksett: 21%

Manchester: 18%

Bedford: 1%

“I was a little bit surprised about how restrictive Manchester is toward duplexes, but it makes sense when you think about it,” Jason Sorens, senior research faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research and the principal investigator of the New Hampshire Zoning Atlas, said. 

“The very fact that Manchester has had a lot of blue-collar housing near the center in the past has made single-family neighborhoods, particularly in the North End, very protective of their status. And at the same time, business and commercial districts in the city sometimes (not always) allow multifamily development but restrict one- and two-unit buildings. 

“It seems to me the latter problem is easy to fix: There’s no constituency for keeping small-scale housing out of commercial districts. Mixed-use and planned unit developments should be lawful across everything that is now zoned commercial or business.”

On small lots (less than one acre), only 1.9% of Manchester’s buildable area is open for duplex development. 

“Even in the single-family districts, legalizing duplexes is a small step, because ADUs are already legal under state law,” Sorens said. “All you have to do is remove the maximum size requirement (currently 750 square feet), and duplexes are then effectively lawful.”

Manchester is slightly more hostile to triplexes than duplexes. On only 17% of Manchester’s buildable land is three-family housing allowed. 

Opposition to multifamily housing typically arises from fears that large apartment buildings will be erected next to single-family homes, changing the character of residential neighborhoods. But the Zoning Atlas shows that municipalities, including the state’s largest city, can add to the state’s housing stock just by reducing restrictions on duplexes. 

Making it easier to build duplexes and multifamilies in Manchester would make homes and apartments more affordable. The median home price in New Hampshire is up to $490,000, according to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors (NHAR).

These monthly median prices have been increasing for 43 consecutive months (since February 2020). And for the second straight month, the affordability index sat at 59—both an all-time low and a 15% drop from one year ago.

Monthly median gross rent for two-bedroom units in the state is $1,764

Duplexes and triplexes offer options for both homeowners and renters. They can be great starter homes that double as investment properties for young couples and individuals. 

To get more of them, municipalities will have to change their land-use regulations, not just to allow more duplexes and triplexes, but to reduce secondary regulations that prevent them from being built. 

“Beyond duplexes, you really have to look at how the zoned density compares to the existing density,” Sorens added. “On much of the West Side, multifamily development is allowed, but tight floor area ratios, low maximum heights, and inappropriate parking minimums have made it impossible to increase density there at all. The strict regulations haven’t gentrified these neighborhoods despite rising rents; instead, they’ve helped create a homelessness problem downtown.”

Though Manchester has allowed the construction of more large apartment buildings, its burdensome restrictions on small multifamily options keep the city’s housing supply artificially low, raise prices, and limit options for city residents. 

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has joined 16 other state attorneys general in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) lawsuit alleging that “Amazon is a monopolist” that engages in illegal anti-competitive behavior.  

But a close read of FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan’s suit reveals a confused and ultimately unconvincing case that Amazon (a) is a monopoly player and (b) has harmed consumers. 

If the FTC prevails in this legal case, it appears likely that consumers and small businesses, including the 4,500 small-to-medium-sized New Hampshire businesses that sell on Amazon and the many thousands of Granite Staters who shop online, will be harmed, not helped.

The lawsuit makes two primary claims. The first is that “Amazon is a monopolist.”

Therefore, the first test of the lawsuit’s merits is whether this statement is accurate. 

Monopoly

In a free, competitive market, not all competitors succeed or survive. Innovators regularly surge past existing players to gain large market share, becoming temporarily dominant. Though this is a natural function of a competitive market, some see this simple economic fact as evidence that a particular market is not competitive, confusing competition with the actual number of competitors at a given point in time.

This misunderstanding is at the heart of the FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon. 

“Monopoly exists when a specific individual or enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it,” Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom. Amazon clearly is not a monopolist under Friedman’s definition. What about the FTC’s definition?

The FTC’s website offers guidance outlining the legal steps required under U.S. antitrust law to prove that a company is a monopolist

As a first step, courts ask if the firm has ‘monopoly power’ in any market,” the FTC explains. “This requires in-depth study of the products sold by the leading firm, and any alternative products consumers may turn to if the firm attempted to raise prices.”

To be a monopolist, the FTC must prove that the company has (1) “monopoly power” in a market and (2) achieved or held onto its leading position in the market through “improper conduct.” 

Even if a company has a large market share (typically over 50%), that market share has to be durable and has to preclude competitors from entering or, once entered, offering products and services at low prices. 

The existence of competitively priced alternatives readily available to consumers in the market would be one way to demonstrate that a dominant player is not, in fact, a monopolist.

Amazon clearly does not exert monopoly control over the U.S. retail marketplace. In 2022, only 14.5% of all retail sales in the United States were online. The rest (85.5%) were done in brick-and-mortar stores. 

Walmart, not Amazon, is the top American retailer, with a nearly 17% share of the retail market, followed by Amazon’s 14.28% share, CVS’s 8.96%, Costco’s 6.51%, and Home Depot’s 4.37%. 

So, Amazon is hardly a retail monopoly.

What about online commerce? Amazon is the number one e-commerce company in the world. Does that make it a monopolist? 

Amazon accounted for 37.8% of all online sales in the United States in 2022. E-commerce data company PYMNTS pegs its share of e-commerce spending in 2023 at 48%. That’s a lot, but a monopoly it does not make. 

Walmart, Apple, eBay, and Target round out the top five online U.S. retailers. Despite Amazon accounting for the greatest share of e-commerce sales, Walmart.com, eBay.com, and AliExpress.com are the three most visited e-commerce websites. Etsy.com, Samsung.com, PlayStation.com, and BestBuy.com remain popular sites as well.

Though Amazon is the largest player (at the moment), it faces real competition. Before the FTC lawsuit was filed, Supermarket News reported this summer that Walmart’s share of online retail sales grew from 5.7% to 6.7%—a 17% increase—in the first quarter of the year. Amazon’s share grew from 43.7% to 47.9%—a 9% increase. Walmart’s comparable e-commerce sales grew by 27%. In the second quarter of this year, Walmart’s global e-commerce sales were up 24%

If Amazon has achieved an illegal level of market dominance, one would expect its competitors to be losing revenue and market share. But its largest competitor, Walmart, posted $573 billion in revenue in 2022 versus Amazon’s $514 billion. And Walmart’s share of online retail commerce is growing, not shrinking. Its stock is up 13.5% this year. For an alleged victim of an illegally dominant monopoly player, it’s doing extremely well. 

The FTC clearly understands this fundamental issue with its case, which is why the agency very carefully alleges that Amazon has a monopoly over “the online superstore market and the market for online marketplace services.” 

As these are two innovations that Amazon pioneered, it’s to be expected that the company maintains a large lead in these areas. That in itself is not a violation of U.S. antitrust law. But defining Amazon’s market in such a novel, limited, and arbitrary fashion is the only way the FTC can possibly claim that Amazon holds monopoly power. 

As Peter Jacobsen at the Foundation for Economic Education writes: “Notice how important these words are for the FTC. If you remove the word ‘online’ then clearly Amazon has no monopoly. There are lots of superstores. If you remove the word ‘superstore,’ again there is no monopoly. Amazon does not have a monopoly on online stores.”

That’s precisely why the FTC asserts that “brick-and-mortar stores and online stores with a more limited selection are not reasonably interchangeable with online superstores for the same purposes and are thus properly excluded from the online superstore market.” 

That’s a neat trick. The FTC deliberately excluded the markets where most American retail transactions occur so it could articulate the existence of a completely separate market ruled by Amazon. But the “online superstore” market is not a meaningfully distinct market. It’s just one part of a broader American retail market.

The FTC’s attempt to invent a distinct online superstore market is undermined by actual consumer behavior. PYMNTS reports that 28% of U.S. consumers have used a cell phone to assist with shopping while in a brick-and-mortar store, with 9% comparing the in-store price to prices offered by other merchants. 

The FTC might consider online superstores a distinct and separate market, but consumers do not.   

It’s not even clear precisely what an “online superstore” is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “superstore” as “a very large store often offering a wide variety of merchandise for sale.” The FTC devotes several pages to attempting to define “online superstore.” It concludes by claiming that online superstores are so attractive that consumers won’t even shop at other types of online stores, even if they offer lower prices. 

“Even though such stores may price certain items comparably with online superstores, shoppers do not seriously consider those stores as reasonable alternatives to online superstores for a significant portion of their shopping needs.”

Again, real life contradicts the FTC’s claim. The Internet is full of online retail outlets that aren’t superstores and yet somehow manage to have customers. In 2022, the fastest-growing e-commerce site was not a superstore, but a clothing store. In fact, 10 of the 15 fastest-growing e-commerce sites last year were not superstores. Consumers do not always prefer superstores, either online or in person.  

Online stores that sell unique, can’t-get-anywhere-else products will always have an edge over the mass-produced goods you find on Amazon,” e-commerce services provider Shopify notes, further undermining the FTC’s case. 

The FTC supports its narrow market definition by arguing that “[o]nline superstores are distinct from, and not reasonably interchangeable with, brick-and-mortar stores. From start to finish, online superstores provide a vastly different shopping experience from physical stores.” 

The fact that online superstores provide a different experience for shoppers is an inherent feature of a competitive retail market.

Anti-competitive practices   

The FTC attempts to buttress its claims by asserting that Amazon has engaged in “anti-competitive” practices. It does this primarily by making a case against certain requirements and practices deployed by Amazon to govern its own Amazon Marketplace. However, the FTC doesn’t conclude its case with a convincing demonstration of consumer harm. 

A study by Profitero of about 15,000 products sold online found that Amazon had the lowest online prices compared to 13 other major retailers in the United States. In fact, Amazon’s prices were, on average, 13% below rivals like Target and Walmart.

If Amazon offers consumers low prices, then what’s the FTC’s beef? The agency claims that Amazon leverages its Amazon Prime service to attract more consumers and to coerce sellers who choose to sell on Amazon Marketplace to use its fulfillment service, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). The agency deems this to be anti-competitive behavior.

But Amazon cannot compel anyone to use its marketplace. It offers incentives instead. For consumers, a wide variety of low-price products delivered quickly is the appeal. For sellers, access to a huge market of engaged customers is the appeal. 

Amazon’s fulfillment service is valuable to sellers because it lets them outsource services such as warehousing and packaging to Amazon directly, saving time and resources on the back end. 

FBA also offers access to Amazon’s Prime delivery service. Prime is valuable to sellers because it provides value to consumers

The FTC claims that “the Prime subscription fee makes subscribers feel as though they must make the subscription fee worth it by making more purchases on Amazon.” 

In other words, incentivizing subscribers to purchase more products on its platform as opposed to shopping on competitors’ platforms is anti-competitive and monopolistic. So, creating value for consumers is…anti-competitive?

Many retailers use similar rewards systems. Big-box stores such as BJ’s and Costco have up-front membership fees similar to Amazon’s Prime fee. Coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, and many other retailers offer rewards points and programs to encourage customer loyalty. Rewarding repeat business with discounts or enhanced services is not unique to Amazon.

“Forcing sellers to use FBA to obtain Prime eligibility impedes competition and the growth of independent fulfillment providers,” the FTC claims. 

The FTC is complaining that Amazon wants to control the packaging, warehousing, and delivery of products offered under its own branded loyalty program on its own website. But ask any restaurant owner about their experience with Grubhub or DoorDash, and it’s easy to see why Amazon would want to control this end of its business. It’s the only way to ensure quality. 

Amazon can have a perfectly legitimate business reason for not allowing another company to offer fulfillment services under the Amazon Prime brand. The FTC pretends that the only possible outcome of such a policy is to reduce competition, when in fact an obvious outcome is that Amazon can maintain a consistent, quality experience for both consumers and sellers. 

And, again, Amazon doesn’t force sellers to use its fulfillment service. But if sellers want to take advantage of the Amazon Prime brand, as many do, then Amazon has every right to couple FBA with its Prime service, as they go hand-in-hand.

Offering Prime as part of FBA is a chief way in which Amazon distinguishes itself from other independent fulfillment providers. If these competitors’ survival depends on how well they compete with Amazon Prime, how is that anti-competitive behavior on Amazon’s part?

The FTC also argues that “Amazon raises sellers’ costs by forcing them to split their inventory to sell across multiple sales channels.” What the FTC means is that a retailer who wants to sell on Amazon Marketplace, as well as Walmart or eBay marketplaces simultaneously, must divide its inventory among separate warehouses and fulfillment services. 

It neglects to mention that it’s the seller’s own choice to split inventory in order to access Amazon’s extensive consumer base while also selling through other channels. No one has to sell on Amazon Marketplace. It’s a choice, and that choice comes with tradeoffs. If retailers don’t think the tradeoff is worth it, they have many other options.

Contrary to the FTC’s assertions, Amazon doesn’t force sellers to use its fulfillment service or split their inventories. Rather, sellers do it because of the value added.

As the lawsuit makes clear, the FTC envisions an imaginary “perfect” market where every company that enters can survive and thrive by selling similar products for similar prices while not one competitor tries to gain a competitive edge over the others. But no such fantasy market exists. And if one did, its consumers would be harmed by the absence of aggressive competitors who seek dominant market share.

“Throughout the history of anti-trust prosecutions, there has been an unresolved confusion between what is detrimental to competition and what is detrimental to competitors,” economist Thomas Sowell writes in Basic Economics. “In the midst of this confusion, the question of what is beneficial to the consumer has often been lost sight of.”

Sowell’s point applies to the FTC’s lawsuit. There’s no disputing that Amazon is a giant corporation. But big doesn’t automatically equal bad. What’s important is identifying consumer harm. The FTC has failed to do this.

The agency fails to demonstrate that Amazon is a monopoly or that its alleged anti-competitive practices have, on net, harmed consumers or sellers. 

The changes to Amazon’s practices that the FTC wants to see would likely raise prices and reduce service quality and consistency—all in order for the company to be deemed “competitive” in a made-up market that the agency invented.  

It’s a disappointment that New Hampshire has joined a lawsuit with so many obvious flaws and with so many potential downsides for consumers.

As the Biden administration gets closer to finalizing its proposed rule banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars nationwide, a well-known aphorism comes to mind: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

The administration’s logic behind the federal ban is that doing so will reduce smoking and correspondingly improve public health. This is the same logic used to justify increasing tobacco taxes or banning tobacco and vaping products at the state level. 

When a state bans flavored tobacco or increases excise taxes on cigarettes, legal cigarette sales in the state tend to fall as a result. But what about illegal and out-of-state sales?

High cigarette taxes and bans on flavored tobacco products create black and gray markets through which smugglers become the new suppliers of these products. 

Tax rates and smuggling

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy tracks cigarette smuggling in the United States. Its 2021 report showed how cigarette smuggling increases as excise tax rates on tobacco products increase. 

New York, which taxes cigarettes $4.35 a pack, saw the highest rate of inbound smuggling—54.48%. The total number of smuggled packs, more than 254 million, was second in the country behind California’s more than 465 million. California also had the second-highest inbound smuggling rate (44.02%) and a tax rate of $2.87 per pack.

When taxes get high enough to encourage large-scale smuggling, tax revenue falls as people stop buying from legal vendors and start buying on the street, and as some vendors switch to out-of-state suppliers and simply don’t report or pay taxes on those purchases. As a result of their high taxes, California and New York saw the two largest revenue losses—more than $1.3 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively. 

With a tax rate of $3.51 per pack, Massachusetts had the fourth-highest inbound smuggling rate (37.59%) and the ninth-highest number of smuggled packs (more than 63 million), resulting in the sixth-largest revenue loss (nearly $224 million) in 2021.

Where were these Massachusetts and New York smugglers purchasing these products? Mostly in New Hampshire. 

With by far the lowest state tax on cigarette products in the Northeast ($1.78 per pack), the Granite State saw one of the highest outbound smuggling rates in 2021 (-34.13%, which translates to more than 32 million packs). 

As smugglers crossed into New Hampshire to purchase cigarettes, the State of New Hampshire collected an additional $58 million in revenue. 

High cigarette taxes incentivize illicit market activity, encouraging smugglers to purchase products in low-tax states, cross state lines with them, and consume or resell the products in high-tax states. 

A similar dynamic takes place when a state bans tobacco products. 

Bans and black markets

After Massachusetts banned flavored tobacco in 2019, JAMA Internal Medicine found that flavored tobacco sales dropped in the state. Successful policy, right?

Not so fast. “In fact, the flavor ban has been far from successful, as sales in both New Hampshire and Rhode Island experienced double-digit growth—almost making up for the entire decrease in Massachusetts,” according to the Tax Foundation.

After Massachusetts’ ban, total sales of flavored tobacco in New England fell by only about 1% from June 2019–May 2020 to June 2020–May 2021. 

While sales of flavored tobacco decreased by 24% in Massachusetts between the year before the ban to the year after the ban, they increased by 22% in New Hampshire, 18% in Rhode Island, and 6% in Vermont. 

In fiscal year 2021, Massachusetts lost out on $125 million in tobacco excise tax revenue as sales shifted to other states. 

It’s a mistake to equate falling cigarette sales at licensed, regulated shops with an equivalent decline in smoking. The evidence shows that high taxes and bans on tobacco products shift a lot of activity to the black market. 

A University of California at San Diego study of Massachusetts licensed tobacco retailers in the two years before and the two years after the flavored cigarette ban found that the number of new tobacco retail licenses fell by 53% after the ban, with the total number of retail licenses falling by 5.8%. This finding, combined with the documented increases in out-of-state sales and cross-border smuggling, underscores the point that the ban has not ended menthol cigarette smoking in Massachusetts, but rather has moved these products onto the black market. 

Responding to incentives

Massachusetts created strong incentives for people to buy tobacco products elsewhere and bring them into the state for personal use and/or sales. People responded just as expected.

It’s important to recognize that criminals respond to incentives too. Gangs and drug smugglers can increase their revenues by adding cigarette smuggling to their repertoire of illicit activities. In the name of public health, states can find themselves strengthening existing organized crime networks and even creating new ones by imposing bans or high tax rates. 

Bans and punitive tax rates also induce evasive behaviors among otherwise law-abiding citizens. 

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Illegal Tobacco Task Force issues press releases boasting of its enforcement of the state’s tobacco laws. Those press releases list people charged with running large-scale smuggling operations that include flavored tobacco, vapes, and marijuana. But they also include store owners arrested, convicted, and jailed for purchasing tobacco products out of state to avoid Massachusetts’ high taxes. 

It’s worth noting that the task force is part of the Department of Revenue. It was created “to address the problem of illegal tobacco distribution in the Commonwealth and the loss of millions of dollars of legitimate tax revenues to the state every year [emphasis added].” Massachusetts’ tax policy stimulated so much tax evasion that the state created a separate team just to find and punish tax evaders.

The solution to this interstate smuggling, some advocates argue, is a nationwide ban. Such policies used to be called “prohibition.” But as that term has fallen out of political favor, advocates instead use the term “ban” now.  

There is a large overlap between the people who want to ban tobacco and vaping products and the people who want to maximize government revenue for social welfare programs. Those two goals are in conflict. A Tax Foundation analysis of a proposed menthol cigarette ban shows how.

“A nationwide ban would result in a federal revenue decline of $1.9 billion in the first full year after prohibition,” according to the Tax Foundation. “In the states, the decline in excise tax revenue would be $2.6 billion, the decline in sales tax revenue would be $892 million, and the decline in MSA payments would be $1.2 billion, for a total state revenue loss of $4.7 billion.”

In New Hampshire, where menthol cigarettes make up 34% of the state’s market, a federal ban would mean more than $49 million in lost revenue, of which 71% would be a decline in excise tax revenue. 

And just like Massachusetts’ ban resulted in 90% of its lost sales merely moving to neighboring states, a federal ban would increase sales and consumption of other tobacco products like non-flavored cigarettes, and it would move sales and consumption of menthol cigarettes underground. 

For example, according to Reason Foundation, “approximately 22 million additional packs of nonmenthol cigarettes were sold in those states in the year after [Massachusetts’] flavor ban, leading to a net increase in cigarette sales.”

Where will illicit menthol cigarettes come from after a nationwide ban is enacted? The same place so many other banned products do: China. 

In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned flavored vaping products. It boasts that since the ban, it has rejected 99% of requests to sell new e-cigarettes, implying that the ban has reduced access to undesired products. 

But CBS News reported in June that the “number of different electronic cigarette devices sold in the U.S. has nearly tripled to over 9,000 since 2020.”

The FDA’s ban excludes disposable vape products. So, predictably, consumers migrated to disposables. But closing that “loophole” isn’t the solution advocates think it is. The surge in different vape products sold has been “driven almost entirely by a wave of unauthorized [emphasis added] disposable vapes from China.”

Consumers and suppliers always find ways to circumvent federal bans.

The primary achievement of such bans will be to replace legal, regulated products with illegal, unregulated ones, often from unscrupulous manufacturers. In a legal market, manufacturers and sellers have strong incentives to build market share by building trust with consumers. Legal markets promote accountability. Black markets do the opposite. Manufacturers and sellers have strong incentives to conceal their identities, which weakens accountability and reduces consumer safety. 

Any federal ban would bolster illicit trade, flooding the market with less safe products from unaccountable manufacturers. 

The goal of high cigarette taxes and flavored tobacco bans may be an altruistic one, namely to reduce smoking and improve public health. But the actual outcome of such policies is what’s important. Creating black markets, reducing accountability, shifting money from legitimate businesses to criminal networks, and reducing overall economic and personal freedom create a net negative for the economy and society. 

Reducing teen smoking is a worthy goal. Which is why it’s already illegal for teens to smoke. Rather than using policy levers that distort market incentives and infringe on the personal freedom of adults, activists should focus on improving their efforts to educate young people about the risks of smoking.



The Competitiveness Coalition, in coordination with The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, find in a poll of 800 likely Republican primary voters, released Sept. 5,  that these voters want the federal government to focus on inflation, the cost of living and the economy, and not get distracted by attacking American tech companies.

On New Hampshire-specific issues, the poll shows huge support among Republican primary voters for ending the Interest & Dividends Tax, and little support for raising electricity costs to fight climate change. 

The key findings of the poll include:

  • More than 70% of GOP primary voters believe there is too much government regulation.
  • New Hampshire Republican presidential primary voters are focused on the economy: just under half (48%) of primary voters said either inflation and the cost of living (28%) or jobs and the economy (20%) were the most important issues.
  • At just 4%, breaking up large technology companies is a bottom-tier issue position for Republican presidential primary voters in New Hampshire.
  • Fully 72% of GOP primary voters are opposed to the Biden Administration establishing new regulations that would break up large technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Google, including 47% who are strongly opposed.
  • If these regulations were to go into place, these voters are concerned about the impact they would have on their own lives, including Google starting to charge for their services (34%), and Apple no longer being able to ensure the safety and security of downloaded apps (also 34%).
  • Supporting breaking up large technology companies has the potential to be electorally damaging for Republican candidates, especially when informed this could give the advantage to Chinese tech companies. Seventy-four percent (74%) of GOP primary voters are less likely to vote for a Republican candidate after hearing that, including 59% who are much less likely.
  • Fully 80% of GOP primary voters support eliminating the Interest & Dividends Tax to make New Hampshire truly income-tax-free. 
  • Asked how much more they’d be willing to pay per month in higher electricity costs to convert New Hampshire power plants from natural gas to renewables, 59% said they’d be willing to pay nothing more, 23% said $5 more, 9% said $25 more, 4% said $50 more, and 3% said $100 more.

“It’s clear that Republican voters in the First In The Nation state oppose the misguided Biden antitrust agenda and believe it will exacerbate the challenges of Bidenomics,” said Scott Brown, a New Hampshire resident, former U.S. Senator and Ambassador and chair of the Competitiveness Coalition. “The candidates competing in the Granite State would be wise to take heed and advocate for policies that will bring economic relief rather than additional pain. We have far too much regulation on our innovators already, and breaking up successful American success stories to the benefit of the Chinese Communist Party is the exact wrong approach.”

Andrew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, added that the poll reinforces that New Hampshire voters are looking for basic good governance, not more government activism. “The message from Republican primary voters in New Hampshire is simple. They’d prefer to restrain the federal government, not American businesses,” Cline said.  

Additionally, the poll, which was conducted after the first Republican presidential debate, shows Donald Trump with a significant lead on the Republican presidential primary ballot. The former President currently garners 47% on the primary ballot, giving him a more than 30-point lead over his closest challengers (Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, both at 10%).  Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy both sit at 8%, with no other candidate receiving more than 5% of the vote.

  • Trump: 47%
  • Ron DeSantis: 10%
  • Nikki Haley: 10%
  • Vivek Ramaswamy: 8%
  • Chris Christie: 8%
  • Tim Scott: 5%
  • Mike Pence: 4%
  • Doug Burgum: 2%
  • Will Hurd: 1%
  • Asa Hutchison: 1%
  • Larry Elder: 1%
  • Undecided: 4%

On behalf of the Competitiveness Coalition and The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy,  NMB Research conducted a statewide survey of N=800 likely Republican presidential primary voters in New Hampshire. The survey was conducted August 25-31, 2023 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46%.  All surveys were conducted by live interviewers, with 78% of interviews conducted with cell phone respondents (N=623) and 22% of interviews conducted with landline respondents (N=177).

Launched in April 2022, the Competitiveness Coalition is a first-of-its-kind group educating the public and advocating for policies that put consumers first while fostering innovation and attracting new investment. For more information, please visit competitivenesscoalition.com. Members of the press can contact the coalition at [email protected]. The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy is New Hampshire’s free-market think tank.

New Hampshire voters rank affordable housing as the state’s No. 1 problem, according to a UNH Survey Center poll released on August 28. State business and political leaders agree, saying housing affordability is the top problem holding back the state’s economy. 

“Oh, it’s number one,” Gov. Chris Sununu told Drew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, on the WFEA Morning Update. “The lack of housing for middle and lower-income families is absolutely number one because…. Without the housing, you don’t have the employees. Without the employees, the businesses can’t grow. If the businesses can’t grow, then economically everything becomes stagnation.”

In June 2023, housing affordability in the state reached a new record low for the second consecutive month, according to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors. With an affordability index of 61, the state’s median household income was only 61% of what’s necessary to qualify for the median-priced single-family home at current interest rates.

At the same time, median prices for single-family homes in New Hampshire hit their highest point ever at $495,000—an increase of $30,000 from the previous month’s record high. Condos notched a record median price of $400,000 in June too. 

Rents are also hitting new heights. The median cost of a two-bedroom apartment soared 11.4% over the past year alone to $1,764 a month.

Despite New Hampshire’s growing economy—ranked fourth overall, third in economic growth, first in economic opportunity, and last in poverty rate by U.S. News & World Report—the state is 36th in housing affordability.

“I would rate housing affordability number one currently among issues or challenges impacting New Hampshire’s economy,” Michael Skelton, president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association (BIA), told the Josiah Bartlett Center.

“It’s unquestionably the single most important problem facing New Hampshire’s economy,” said Jason Sorens, senior research faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research and author of the Josiah Bartlett Center’s landmark 2021 study linking local land-use regulations to the state’s housing shortage. 

Several leaders also agree that land-use regulations are a leading cause of the issue. 

“Most of the affordability problem is due to local land-use regulations,” Bob Quinn, CEO of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, concluded. “They increase development costs or eliminate the opportunity to build entirely.”

“Local land-use regulations are certainly part of the issue, on par with NIMBYISM [Not-In-My-Backyard-ism],” Keene Mayor George Hansel said.

It comes down to a problem of supply and demand: Limited supply of housing with steady or increasing demand leads to an increase in prices. By restricting what can be built and where, zoning laws are suppressing the supply of housing, resulting in New Hampshire’s current housing shortage, state housing experts and business leaders say.

“There is simply not enough housing for people to rent in New Hampshire,” Ben Frost, deputy executive director of New Hampshire Housing, said on WMUR.

According to the CATO Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States—an index of personal and economic freedom—New Hampshire ranks 40th in land-use freedom, a product of local land-use regulations obstructing supply.  

These zoning regulations include minimum lot size, setback, frontage, minimum square footage, and design requirements, among others—all of which make it difficult to build and/or increase the costs of building.  

“We know developers are interested in building more housing and there are generally financing options and capital available to do so, [but] the challenge they most often face is finding a place to build,” BIA’s Skelton observed. “Local land-use regulations and zoning (minimum lot size being the most prominent) and infrastructure (water/sewer, etc.) availability and requirements, to me, are the most significant local regulatory issues impacting what can be built and where.”

As the New Hampshire Zoning Atlas demonstrates, single-family housing is allowed by right on 90% of the state’s 3.6 million acres of buildable land, yet most municipalities don’t allow single-family homes on small lots (less than one acre). 

In fact, homes on lots of less than one acre are permitted on only 16% of the state’s buildable land. 

The median lot in New Hampshire is 49,223 square feet, according to the Angi U.S. Lot Size Index. This is the second-highest in the country. 

In New Hampshire, minimum lot size requirements can exceed dozens of acres. Districts in Groton, New Boston, Peterborough, and New London require lots to be a minimum of 25 acres (1.089 million square feet).

Zooming in on the Manchester area, 89% of the buildable land in the city and surrounding towns (Auburn, Bedford, Goffstown, Hooksett, Litchfield, Londonderry, and Merrimack) allows single-family housing, but only 33% of that buildable area is open to new single-family homes (after accounting for existing development, vacancies, and growth potential). 

Just 21% of the Manchester area’s buildable land allows single-family homes on small lots. This drops to merely 7.8% when considering only vacant or underdeveloped space.

“It’s not the only factor, but it’s the predominant factor, and it’s easily the most important factor we can actually do something about,” Jason Sorens, the principal investigator of the New Hampshire Zoning Atlas, noted about local zoning laws. 

“We can’t do much about steep slopes and poor soils, and expanding sewer and water service takes time and expense. Growing the construction workforce is another lever, but that will take a long time. Local land-use regulations drive at least 50% of the affordability problem, and we can change them,” Sorens added.

Multifamily development is heavily restricted as well. While housing for five or more families is permitted on 44.2% of New Hampshire’s buildable area, only 21% of this land allows these large-family developments on smaller lots.

Reforming a city’s zoning regime can be quite an undertaking. “Keene has dramatically streamlined and rewritten our land-use codes in the last three years,” Mayor Hansel said. “This was an expensive effort, costing more than $500,000 on top of internal staff time devoted to the rewrite effort. Smaller communities, without full-time planning staff, would have a hard time tackling something like that.”

Though some communities might want to avoid a full rewrite, smaller changes such as reducing minimum lot sizes, eliminating overlay districts (zoning districts that overlap original zoning districts), and increasing density limits (how many housing units can be built in a given area) would have significant impact.

Mayor Paul Callaghan offers Rochester as a model for other municipalities looking to make quick progress on this front. 

“In 2018 we increased the density allowance in and around our three urban centers (East Rochester, Downton Rochester, and Gonic) to allow for more density (and therefore less cost to developers),” Mayor Callaghan said. “And then in 2019 we did away with density requirements altogether in Downtown Rochester and allowed for some residential units on the ground floor level.”

“The system really works when it’s clicking, and the number one thing holding it all back…is housing,” Gov. Sununu told Cline. “And it isn’t, ‘Well, the government needs to build more housing.’ We’re investing more in housing than we ever have.” 

In fact, the 2024–25 state budget spends a record $25 million for the affordable housing fund. 

“But the locals need to permit it,” the governor continued. “Local, even small towns, need to talk to their businesses who are struggling to find employees and say, ‘Maybe if we just put five units up here or we let a small multifamily complex with seven, ten units go over here,’ that in itself can just be a game changer for a lot of small businesses in town to make them more economically viable.”

Capturing the full economic extent of the challenge, the governor added, “Everything moves positively when you have the housing and you can bring in the employees.”