In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate in America, and the 2017 Talk Poverty Report ranks New Hampshire among the best states on almost every measure of poverty.
Still, there are poor in New Hampshire, and whether these numbers accurately reflect the current homeless situation is unknown. Homeless people often move from place to place. Even when they are available in the area for a census-taker, the most common response they have is to decline to register themselves. The best that anyone can do is estimate how many such people live in any state (this doesn’t count people who live in motor homes or other mobile domiciles).
New Hampshire’s farmers appear to be getting poorer, though the census didn’t ask whether families ate well, what conditions they lived in, or whether the value of their property might be in the event they decided to sell. The census only looked at income, rather than quality of life.
Government’s Role in Poverty
An article about libertarian solutions to poverty, written around the time of Ron Paul’s last campaign for president, overtly states that “government causes poverty.” And the numbers suggest that the homeless population of a state increases based on how repressive and tyrannical its state and local governments are. After all, economic activity decreases in proportion to how much taxation increases. The more taxes, the less economic activity. The less economic activity, the fewer jobs there are to be had. The fewer jobs there are, the fewer people are supporting themselves and paying their own way.
New Hampshire, as a state with far less government interference in the affairs of its citizens than elsewhere, has yet to throw people out on the street to sleep on asphalt in sleeping bags. They also have declined to take an active role in combating the problem of poverty, and the less politicians and bureaucrats are involved in it, the better. The only real lasting solution to any community-based problem is community-based action.
The Lay of the Land for the Poor in New Hampshire
New Hampshire is mostly a wilderness state with small towns interspersed here and there. Owning a car is a necessity if one wants to live in such towns. The town of Salisbury, for example, is little more than an incorporated community of decently-sized estates with a single convenience store. I can’t remember seeing a single red light in that town.
Nashua, Portsmouth, Manchester and Concord appear to be the most likely destinations for anyone seeking to live cheaply. Big population centers with a decent public transportation system and a lot of local businesses are generally preferable over forest roads and churches built in the middle of nowhere.
Of these, Manchester is the city with the largest population. As it is the city where I currently reside, as well as the city with the highest concentration of poor people, Manchester will be the focus of much of my writing.
Life in Manchester
I have personally found that being poor in New Hampshire is a little bit easier than it is in other states. People who can’t support themselves will always be supported through the discretionary income of those who can. For this reason, poor people will always be better off in free-market areas (or approximations of such) where business happens easily. The more private enterprises there are, the more jobs there are available.
Manchester has three nearby towns in its orbit: Goffstown, Bedford, and Londonderry. The Manchester public transit system has at least one bus that goes to each of these places. I currently work at a UPS facility in Londonderry (in addition to freelancing online) while residing in Manchester. The bus also has two routes that go to the local mall on South Willow Street (where all the businesses are) and a few others that go to different colleges. The number six bus, for example, makes a stop at Saint Anselm University, which has an open-to-the-public library.
The buses often take their time getting from place to place. They don’t always stop exactly in front of the place I need to go. However, I view this as a trade-off for having to deal with traffic, congestion, and the general frustration that comes with commuting during rush hour every day. I also have a zero percent chance of getting pulled over by a frisky police officer looking to supplement the state’s revenue with tickets for the slightest small infraction (luckily, the tickets go to the state government rather than the local city council.)
How New Hampshire Government Addresses Homelessness and Addiction
While coming home from the bus every day, I often see homeless people hanging around Veteran’s Park in Manchester, just watching the world go by. Last year, the Manchester city council thought they had a major problem with panhandlers (in fact, they didn’t). The ordinance they made was later struck down in court. They also decided that they had a problem with people smoking cigarettes in public parks. They banned the activity rather than add ashtrays for public use. The message from the Manchester city council has been repeatedly clear: don’t be poor or we will legislate against you.
The city also has a problem with drug usage. Called an “opioid crisis“- a particular phrase that’s convenient for lawmakers and reporters alike – the problem has since been exacerbated by the implementation of the Granite Hammer law in 2016. Ironically enough, the law was voted down in its first try. Then the legislature came back and had to vote to ignore their own rules in order to pass this bill into law. Since then, law enforcement has been cracking down on anyone who appears stoned or loopy in public.
I’ve seen it happen myself only too often – two police cruisers pull up and take away someone possibly in need of medical help. I’ve never actually seen such a person harming anyone, or even themselves. The message from law enforcement is clear: illicit drugs of any kind are against the status quo and we will take you away for even appearing to have used them.
Seen in this light, it may be easily understood why so many poor people have a negative attitude. They see a city council and a police force conspiring together to make life as difficult for them as possible. The poor in Manchester are not supposed to be seen or heard. They’re supposed to stay in their zones, wherever they might be, so they don’t bother the consciences of public employees, many of whom get paid more than 100,000 a year.
There are real solutions to the issues surrounding poverty in New Hampshire that don’t involve government. I’ll write about those next month.