3 counties lose population as New Hampshire adds diversity
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s northernmost county is no longer alone in losing population, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday that show populations also shrunk in two other counties over the last decade.
Already the most sparsely populated, Coos County had been the only one of the state’s 10 counties to lose population between 2000 and 2010. The new figures show that trend accelerating, with a 5% decline from 2010 to 2020.
Small population declines also were seen in the southwest corner of the state, where Cheshire County’s population dropped by about 1% and Sullivan County’s dropped by less than 2%.
Overall, the state’s population grew by 4.6% to 1,377,529. The biggest growth came in Belknap, Rockingham and Strafford counties, which each grew by 6%. In the previous decade, Strafford, Carroll and Grafton counties were the fastest growing.
The new figures also show that New Hampshire, historically one of the whitest states, is becoming a bit more diverse, shifting from 94% white to 88%. That makes it the fourth whitest state, behind Vermont, Maine and West Virginia.
The percent of the population identifying themselves as Hispanic or Latino increased by more than 60%, the sixth largest percentage change in the nation. But the population remains small at 4.3%.
The figures also show New Hampshire remaining one of the oldest states, ranking fourth behind Washington, D.C., Vermont and Maine for its percentage of residents age 18 and over. The 18+ population increased 9% to 81% of the total.
The release of the redistricting data culled from the 2020 census is coming more than four months later than expected due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. States will use the numbers for redrawing congressional and legislative districts, a process that is just getting underway in New Hampshire.
While control of the Legislature has swung back and forth, the current district designations were approved in 2012, when Republicans were in charge as they are now. That map was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch, but the Legislature overrode the veto, and the state Supreme Court later found the plan constitutional.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed bills in 2020 and 2019 that would have created an independent redistricting commission, saying it was unnecessary because gerrymandering is rare in the state and the current redistricting process was fair. The GOP-led Legislature killed similar bills this year.
Earlier Thursday, a coalition advocating for an independent, fair and transparent redistricting process held a news conference to urge lawmakers to follow its roadmap, which includes holding public meetings in every county and creating an online portal to keep the public informed.
Dave Hennessey, a member of the Fair Maps coalition and a voter in Pelham, complained that last redistricting process lumped his town of Pelham in with Hudson as one district with 11 state representatives in the 400-member House. He’d rather see Pelham get four and Hudson seven.
“This is not necessarily a partisan issue. Both our towns, Pelham and Hudson, are heavily Republican towns. However we do have different interests, we do have different needs, and we need separated representation,” he said. “We’re not trying to sway this either way, Republican or Democratic, we just want a fair shake and get the towns like Pelham, that are large enough with 14,000 people, to get its four state reps.”
The House has appointed a special committee on redistricting, with Republicans holding eight of the 15 seats. And work will get underway soon in the Senate, Senate President Chuck Morse said Thursday.
“Now that the census data has become available, we will begin to establish a fair and transparent process for redistricting, including opportunity for public input,” he said.