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N.H. has lowest birthrate in nation

US Census reports similar findings in other N.E. states

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Associated Press / August 22, 2008
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WASHINGTON - The stork apparently has trouble landing in New England.

New Hampshire has the lowest, Vermont the second-lowest, Rhode Island the third-lowest, Massachusetts the seventh-lowest, and Maine the eighth-lowest birth rates in the country.

A new US Census Bureau report says that in 2006, New Hampshire's birthrate was 42 babies per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The national rate was 54.9 births per thousand.

Vermont had a rate of 42.2; Rhode Island's was 45; Massachusetts' was 46.1; and Maine's was 47.3.

In Vermont, officials say the low rate could accelerate a demographic shift that threatens to shrink the state's workforce.

"Everybody has interpreted the shrinking population of working-age people as a mass exodus by young people out of Vermont, but that's really a very small part of the story," Art Woolf, a University of Vermont economist, told The Times Argus. "The biggest part of the story is that people just aren't being born."

Kevin Dorn, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said the shortage of working-age Vermonters is a major economic hurdle facing the state. In the past year, Vermont's workforce fell by about 2,000.

"This low birthrate is a component of a much bigger problem," Dorn said.

The median age of Vermont's workforce is 42.3, the highest in the nation.

And the Vermont Department of Labor estimates that the workforce will shrink in the next two decades as wage-earners reach retirement age.

Governor James Douglas said efforts to bolster the workforce by drawing young professionals back to the state is crucial to economic development.

"Employers cite adequacy of the workforce as one major concern for future success here," Douglas told the newspaper. "We have employers who have created good jobs and want to create more, but they need a qualified workforce to take those jobs."

Recognizing a similar potential workforce problem in New Hampshire, the state university system and business leaders are working together to try to encourage college graduates to stay in the state. They'd like to increase the retention rate from 50 percent to 55 percent. Thus the group's name: The 55 Percent Initiative.

In a survey, in-state and out-of-state students said New Hampshire has a high quality of life, is a good place to raise a family, has available housing, and is close to natural resources.

But 40 percent of graduates said they believe there are few or no jobs in their field in New Hampshire.

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