CONCORD — As New Hampshire’s unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time in more than five years, a House panel yesterday voted to boost unemployment benefits for most recipients for the first time in a decade.
New Hampshire Employment Security announced the preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January was 4.9 percent, a decrease of 0.3 percent from the revised December number of 5.2 percent.
Economist Annette Nielsen with the agency’s Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau said the last time New Hampshire’s unemployment was below 5 percent was more than five years ago.
“It’s been back to December 2008,” Nielsen said.
Then, at the outset of “The Great Recession,” the state saw unemployment of 4.8 percent.
New Hampshire unemployment during the recession peaked at 6.7 percent from October 2009 to January 2010, she said.
“It still seems to me New Hampshire is on track to add about 5,000 jobs annually, which will get us back to the pre-recession peak by the spring or summer,” said economist Dennis Delay of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies.
The state had unemployment at 3 to 4 percent from 2004 to 2008. It was at 7.6 percent in the 1991-1992 recession. The worst recorded since 1969 was 8.3 percent in 1975, during the oil crisis.
Yesterday, the House Labor, Industrial and Rehablitative Services Committee voted, 17-0, to recommend passage of House Bill 1499, increasing the maximum weekly benefit for unemployment.
“We were very pleased to see such positive, bipartisan support for this bill,” said Sarah Mattson, who has advocated on behalf of the bill for New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the New Hampshire Kids Count Coalition.
The state has in recent years has increased some benefit tiers, but not done so comprehensively in the last decade, she said.
It would represent a range of weekly increases of $3 to $25, depending on the recipient, she said.
“This is a needed increase,” Mattson said.
She described it as a modest proposal providing increases of 1 to 10 percent, depending on the recipient and qualifications.
“This will mean the ability to fill up a gas tank one more time per month,” she said. “This is money going straight back into the economy.”
The bill originated in the state’s department of Employment Security.
Mattson credited Commissioner George Copadis. She said the bill has the support of the governor.
Yesterday’s newly released unemployment figure just underscores the bill’s importance, Mattson said.
“There are still a lot of people who can’t find work,” she said.
Allison O’Neil of Manchester, stopped at a gas station in Londonderry, said more needs to be done for those who want work.
O’Neil said she’s been out of work for months and repeatedly told she’s overqualified for jobs.
She complained about the black hole of Internet applications that keep her from following up with a real hiring person or recruiters who admit they don’t look at cover letters.
“Where are the jobs?” O’Neil asked.