Primary Election Debate Exposes Poverty and Homelessness in New Hampshire


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Poverty and homelessness are typically hidden from view in New Hampshire but they were highlighted in the mainstream during the recent presidential primary elections, as Jarrett Murphy reported for City Limits.  In the last debate before the Democratic primaries, on February 7, 2020, debate moderator George Stephanopoulos made poverty a topic. As Stephanopoulos noted in asking the question, this was evidently the first time in twenty years that a question about childhood poverty was asked in a presidential debate, Murphy reported.

In 2018, New Hampshire had one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation; at just 7.6 percent, it was one of just six states in the US with a poverty rate under ten percent. As Jarret noted, some critics have argued that New Hampshire’s “unique and hallowed place in the presidential-campaign calendar” ought to be changed, because its relative lack of poverty is “ not reflective of the national condition.” However, Murphy wrote, New Hampshire also suffers from poverty, just not in ways that are readily “visible to television cameras and news correspondents who ramble through for a few days every four years.”

Based on information taken from the American Community Survey, 44 of 107 of New Hampshire’s cities have poverty rates higher than the national average, and ten of those cities have more than one in five people living in poverty. One city, Durham, NH, has a poverty rate of 33 percent.  As the communication director for Southern New Hampshire Services, Patte-Anne Ardizzoni, told Murphy, “I could drive you to the town of Exeter and you’d be appalled by the mobile homes that are rusting away and hidden in the woods.” But, she added, ““That story stands for many of the towns.”

New Hampshire’s poor are “newcomers” or immigrants. Before Trump’s decrease in immigration, refugees and immigrants—including families—fled in significant numbers to New Hampshire. Along with refugees status, multi-generational poverty is a key contributor. With the demise of the region’s traditional industries such as paper mills, even more families are becoming jobless with few options, especially in the state’s rural regions where access to transportation and higher education is especially limited.

Murphy’s report also highlights  New Hampshire’s homeless population. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual point-in-time count, New Hampshire has the eighth-lowest number of homeless people among the states, with just under 1,400 homeless among a total population of 1.4 million. Although that is not a huge number of people, the figure indicates that even in a state with little poverty, and even amid a long-lasting economic boom, there are people in the US—including working people—unable to afford a place to live.

Source: Jarrett Murphy. “Homelessness Lurks Behind the Scenes of New Hampshire’s Primary.” City Limits, February 11, 2020. https://citylimits.org/2020/02/11/homelessness-lurks-behind-the-scenes-of-new-hampshires-primary/.

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