New Hampshire's population is increasing, especially in rural areas

Census estimates show increases across NH, including throughout Merrimack County.

Census estimates show increases across NH, including throughout Merrimack County. Courtesy graphic

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Concord Monitor

Published: 06-22-2024 5:31 PM

Over the past three years, New Hampshire’s population has grown by more than 23,000 residents – about as many people live in the entire town of Bedford – with some communities like Pembroke growing a lot and others like Durham shrinking, according to the latest estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rural areas, particularly the Lakes Region and areas near the White Mountains, have seen substantial population boosts from July 2020 to 2023, the figures show.

Carroll County stands out, with the small town of Brookfield leading the state with an 8.7% rise, adding 66 people to its population.

Phil Sletten, Research Director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, pointed out that this rural population growth since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic mirrors a national trend.

“This growth in these amenity-rich areas likely reflects people moving there for their natural amenities, either to retire or because they were enabled to move to these areas by remote work opportunities,” explained Sletten.

Coos, Sullivan and Cheshire counties, which had been losing population over the last decade, have reversed this trend in the past three years.

Merrimack County saw growth in every community, including the city of Franklin, which grew the least with a 0.5% increase.

Apart from people wanting to be in rural settings, housing availability and pricing have played a crucial role in this population increase. For instance, Pembroke added 319 residents, a 4.4% increase, and saw a doubling of building permits from 10 in 2021 to 20 in 2022.

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Concord experienced a modest 1.3% increase, with 589 new residents and issued 110 building permits in 2022, compared to 134 in 2021.

The estimates show cities like Lebanon, Portsmouth and Rochester have grown faster than New Hampshire as a whole. While still growing, both Concord and Franklin – the two cities in Merrimack County – experienced slower growth relative to the statewide average.

Some communities saw a slowdown, and cities like Manchester, Nashua, and Keene even faced population declines. Manchester lost 34 residents, Nashua lost 196 and Keene saw a decrease of 134 residents between 2020 and 2023.

“Within New Hampshire, the story is not as simple as people are moving from cities to rural areas,” Sletten said. “It appears to depend substantially more on local factors.”

Communities near economic hubs have also seen population growth.

The data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that in 2021 and 2022, twice as many people moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire than the other way around.

“New Hampshire is a net importer of residents from Massachusetts,” said Sletten. “There are still people moving from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, but only half as many as are moving in the other direction.”

Moreover, 6,500 people moved from New Hampshire to Maine during the same period, indicating a trend of residents relocating from rural areas in New Hampshire to more rural areas in Maine.

As New Hampshire’s population continues to grow, there is a pressing need to achieve a balanced housing market with greater availability and affordability, according to experts.

New Hampshire’s Department of Business and Economic Affairs reports an 18% rise in residential building permits issued in 2022.

However, the state remains significantly below the required housing supply.