Scroll through the Executive Summary below or download it as a PDF.
Equity—it is an idea that is easy to conceptualize but hard to measure and even more difficult to achieve. It is a logical extension of one of our founding American beliefs: if all people are created equal, they should all have equal access to opportunities that enable them to attain their full potential. While progress has been made toward that ideal, it remains elusive. It is the work of all of us—residents, employers, public agencies—to continue working toward equity, to measure the change we make, and to redouble our efforts when progress slackens.
In 2011, MAPC released The State of Equity in Metro Boston, a baseline cross-sectoral assessment of inequities in the region. The State of Equity was the first in a series of Regional Indicator reports intended to monitor the region’s progress towards the goals laid out in MAPC’s regional plan MetroFuture: Making a Greater Boston Region. Five years later, MAPC has revisited these indicators to measure whether the region is moving towards, or away from, this vision for an equitable future. The goal of this update is to provide advocates and policy makers with a set of measures that can support collective efforts to address inequities related to the economy, education, environment, housing, public health, public safety, and transportation. By identifying areas where progress has been made in closing critical gaps and areas where inequities persist, this update serves to set the stage for new initiatives and efforts to achieve greater equity.
This effort takes on a particular urgency given the new federal administration that appears poised to roll back many of the pro-equity policies put in place not only by President Obama but by his predecessors stretching back to Lyndon Johnson. If indeed the federal government withdraws from its commitment to advancing equity, the responsibility may fall to local and state leaders to demonstrate that fairness and inclusion are the surest pathways to a bright future and a strong economy. MAPC opposes all efforts to roll back the gains the region has made in advancing equity and will resist every effort to turn the residents of our region against one another. This State of Equity Update is part of our commitment to ensuring that leaders and stakeholders have the facts and strategies they need to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives and works here, especially our most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors. The findings from this report will be used to update MAPC’s State of Equity Policy Agenda, which will provide concrete policy recommendations to address the region’s inequities. In addition, the State of Equity Update will inform the forthcoming update of the MetroFuture regional plan to create and even stronger and more effective vision for an equitable, sustainable, and prosperous region.
MetroFuture envisions a regional future in which everyone has a fair chance to succeed and thrive despite differences in backgrounds and characteristics. That vision is one in which every person has a shot at growing up healthy, receiving a quality education, getting a good job that ensures a good quality of life, and enjoying a comfortable retirement. An equitable Metro Boston is free from discrimination that marginalizes residents based on race, gender identity, religion, disability, nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation, and age, preventing fair access to resources and opportunities. MetroFuture envisions a region in which every community welcomes residents of any race, family structure, or socioeconomic status, countering the legacy of racial, ethnic, and income segregation; families can live where they choose, and each neighborhood more fully reflects the region’s diversity. The region’s historically disadvantaged communities, particularly within urban communities, become healthier through improved access to medical care, increased access to healthy food and green space, and improved air quality. Achieving equity also means that all people can get to where they need to go via affordable, accessible, and sustainable transportation options. In an equitable region, all of the region’s residents are equipped with the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy, and residents are able to build wealth and pass it along to future generations.
Achieving equity does not mean that all people will be the same, or that everyone will make the same decisions. It means eliminating processes that harm certain groups and not others, in ways that are unfair, preventable, systematic, and grounded in social, political, and historical factors. It also means acknowledging and addressing the structural dimensions of racism and discrimination within public policy that limit opportunities for Metro Boston residents to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
MAPC has taken such a strong interest in equity not only out of concern for communities marginalized by the legacy of systemic oppression. It is also clear that persistent inequity is bad for the entire region. Inequity harms the region by hindering economic growth, necessitating the inefficient use of resources, and increasing social conflict. Societies with large gaps between the rich and the poor struggle more with social ills like crime1 and poor health2 than do their more equal counterparts. New research has also shown that there is a correlation between equity and economic growth; societies with high levels of income inequality tend to have slower economic growth than in those with lower income inequality.3 Research has also suggested that rising inequality played a significant role in setting the stage for the Great Recession in 2007.4,5 As MAPC works towards achieving a healthy, sustainable, and prosperous future for Metro Boston, the agency will continue to incorporate equity at the heart of that work.
Many of the inequities present in Greater Boston, can be traced back to a long history of institutional racism within the United States. Institutional racism refers to laws, customs, and practices implemented by institutions, resulting in differential treatment of people of color. The geographic disparities across the region are closely associated with policies that created residential segregation. During the 19th century, the federal and local government1 used racial zoning2 and restrictive covenants3 to ensure that neighborhoods remained racially homogeneous; and deed restrictions4 and discriminatory lending practices5 limited where a family could live. In addition, interpersonal oppression in the form of socially sanctioned violence against families of color who moved into White neighborhoods was another common tactic to keep neighborhoods segregated well into the middle of the 20th century.6,7 This intentional segregation of communities set the stage for inequities in neighborhood quality and conditions, as communities of color received fewer public investments and suffered more noxious uses than white neighborhoods.
Segregated communities gave rise to segregated schools in Metro Boston, as across much of the United States. In 1974, a federal court found that Boston public school officials had intentionally segregated Black and White students. The remedy, which entailed race-based assignment policies intended to integrate all schools, was known locally as “busing” and triggered social, legal and political fights through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1999, after years of protest, officials eliminated race as a factor in deciding where individual Boston children attended school. Busing contributed to White Flight, where White families moved from Boston to suburban communities, helping to establish the patterns of racial and economic segregation observed in Metro Boston today. Boston’s rate of White exodus during the busing era was the highest among major cities in the United States.
The impacts of institutional racism have had crippling repercussions for families throughout generations. From colonization, to slavery, to segregation, people of color have historically been disenfranchised throughout our nation’s history. The accumulating nature of these socioeconomic conditions across generations, makes it difficult for many individuals and families of color to reach their highest potential, without policymakers also taking the steps needed to address the systemic and institutional factors that continue to perpetuate inequity. In addition, not all racial and ethnic groups within the United States have had the same legacies of institutionalized oppression, and these differences are important to acknowledge. Advancing equity requires careful scrutiny of ostensibly “colorblind” policies that do not proactively seek to rectify a long history of institutional racism. In addition to race and ethnicity, the United States also has a legacy of institutional policies that marginalize and discriminate against women, non-Christian people, people born outside of the United States, people who don’t speak English, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities. Race and ethnicity provide a foundation to measure inequity within the region, but the problem must be addressed along many different demographic dimensions.
When applying for jobs, searching for a home, interacting with the police, taking public transit, or any number of other day-to-day social interactions, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and religious minorities face regular discrimination. Discrimination can range from the interpersonal level (where individuals mistreat members of marginalized groups based on prejudice) to the institutional level (where it manifests in established laws, customs, and practices that uphold differential treatment based on membership in a privileged or disadvantaged group). Discrimination limits opportunity when individuals’ access to housing, employment, transportation, healthcare, and more are impeded by arbitrary judgments about a person’s race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality. Experiencing discrimination can lead to long-lasting effects. Some studies have demonstrated a link between experiencing discrimination and worsened mental health outcomes.1,2,3 Many signs indicate that discrimination persists in the region, such as fair housing tests that show systematic discrimination against people of color and evidence that borrowers of color are more likely to receive subprime mortgage loans.
Massachusetts has strong anti-discrimination laws compared to other states. Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151B is a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill that protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, ancestry, parental status, marital status, veteran status, membership in the armed services, and disability. This law prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and mortgage/lending/credit businesses for protected classes.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) manages complaints filed for violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Between 2010 and 2015, MCAD documented an average of 3,180 discrimination complaints each year. In 2015, the Commission received 3,042 claims. The majority of these cases were related to employment (80%), housing (12%), and public accommodations (7%). Many of these cases involved people identifying with more than one protected class. Disability and race/color were the most frequently cited categories of discrimination.4 The total number of complaints may not fully depict the scale of the problem. An official audit of MCAD in 2016 demonstrated that the agency has experienced inefficiencies in program operations and staffing which has limited their ability to fully address all claims of discrimination since 2012.5 Some barriers that MCAD is remedying include completing investigations within regulatory timeframes, completing the monthly minimum of required cases, and ensuring that civil penalties are paid. Furthermore, the burden of proof often lies with individuals who are discriminated against to provide evidence of the unfair treatment, which can be extremely challenging and traumatizing.
It is important to address the pervasiveness of discrimination within the discussion of regional equity. Efforts to challenge discrimination and end implicit and explicit biases are essential to ensure equitable access to opportunity for the most marginalized of Metro Boston residents.
An equitable society is one in which all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to attain their full potential. Inequity results from actions and conditions that negatively and disproportionately affect the health and well-being of certain groups of people in ways that are unfair, preventable, systematic, and grounded in social, political, and historical factors. While these factors are complex, overlapping, and unique to every community, there is plenty of evidence that growing wealth inequality and persistent racial and economic segregation are contributing to continued inequity. As these factors persist across time it becomes even more challenging to break the cycle of inequity, which harms not only individuals, but it also hinders Metro Boston’s potential for equitable growth and prosperity. The intersection of these forces have substantial impacts on communities and on individuals throughout each stage of their lives.
While its normal to have a wide range of incomes in a region (or a nation), income and wealth disparities are wide and continue to widen. Low-income wages are falling and the number of middle-income working households is shrinking, while incomes at the top continue to grow. Wealth, too, is increasingly concentrated, and fewer families are able to save enough to pass on to their children. As the disparity has widened, the opportunities for individuals to move up the economic ladder have declined, and young workers are increasingly likely to earn less than their parents did.1 This decline in income mobility can be attributed in large part to the increasingly unequal distribution of economic growth over recent decades. As documented in MAPC’s Regional Prosperity Indicators, Black and Latino families have substantially lower incomes than White families, and are disproportionately affected by reduced income mobility and the consequences of intergenerational poverty. A reduction in income and wealth disparity overall is therefore a necessary precondition to reducing the inequities affecting people of color.
Persistent income inequality and limited economic opportunity has serious health, financial, and economic impacts on affected communities and the region. Compared to the population overall, low-income individuals can be expected to have lower average life expectancy,2 higher mortality rates,3 and worse mental health.4 Since these effects are magnified for the children in low-income families, improving economic mobility and breaking the cycle of poverty will help to reduce these public health effects and their societal costs. Living wages sufficient to allow parents to pass on wealth to their children will reduce reliance on public assistance and will enable those children to more fully participate in the growing high-skill economy. Previous research has demonstrated that income polarization is bad for regional economic growth.5,6 It’s bad for the health and safety of the region’s residents, as crime is typically higher in places with less equal income distributions. In one study of U.S. urban areas, a 5% increase in the Gini Coefficient was associated with a 2% increase in violent crime rate, a 4% increase in the murder rate, and a 2% increase in car theft.7
Compounding the challenges of increased income inequality are the persistent patterns of spatial segregation that exist within Metro Boston. Few of the region’s neighborhoods are as diverse as the region itself—they are more likely to contain a disproportionate share of a certain race or ethnic group, or to be predominately high- or low-income, or (more often), a combination of both. Three broad patterns of segregation can be measured in Metro Boston: segregation by race/ ethnicity, economic segregation, and the overlap between racial/ethnic and economic segregation.
Segregation impacts all aspects of residents’ lives, including education, health, job opportunities, and quality of life. Segregation limits interaction with people of other backgrounds and contributes to unequal distribution of resources and assets. Concentrated poverty has been linked to a wide variety of social ills, including lower educational achievement, unemployment, higher crime, infant mortality, and social isolation. The public health impacts of segregation are particularly striking and have been linked to worsened public health outcomes including higher incidences of asthma, obesity, low birth weight, tuberculosis, cancer, and premature mortality.8 One study demonstrated that Black young adults living in segregated neighborhoods experienced two to three times the mortality rate of those in integrated areas.9 Finding access to quality healthcare is also more challenging in segregated communities. A study of dialysis patients needing kidney transplants found that living in a predominantly Black neighborhood increased waiting time for a transplant for both Black and White people.10 The study also found that clinics in majority Black neighborhoods were less likely than those in other areas to meet performance targets. The segregated residential patterns we see throughout the region reflect the region’s past history of redlining and white flight, where institutional racism,11 personal prejudice, and other discriminatory practices played a significant role in keeping white residents and residents of color apart, as well as the rich and the poor.
While most of what we know about segregated neighborhoods derives from examining associations, several powerful studies have actually followed low-income families as they moved from segregated inner city areas to places with a higher proportion of White residents. Data from these studies have led many researchers to conclude that segregation actually causes many of the inequities we measure in this report. A 2004 review of the Moving to Opportunity experiment (in which low-income families were given vouchers to move to higher-income neighborhoods) found that moving out of segregated high-poverty to low-poverty neighborhoods resulted in statistically significant improvements in the rates of anxiety, depression, cigarette smoking, and violence exposure for low-income individuals, though it did not necessarily increase income for that household at the time.12More recent research shows that living in higher-income, less segregated areas has demonstrable positive benefits on the lifetime earnings and economic mobility of the children who moved. By tracking children over time, that research found that children who moved to a low-poverty area before age 13 had average earnings that were 31% higher than comparable children who grew up in high-poverty communities.13
Reversing segregation would directly benefit low-income communities and provide regional benefits that extend to wealthier communities as well. A 2013 study of the impacts of segregation on metropolitan economies demonstrated that “racial and skill segregation have a negative impact on short- and long-term economic growth”14 in both urban and suburban communities. The study emphasized the role of transportation access in perpetuating segregation, and its resulting impacts on regional economies. Metropolitan economies thrive when people of diverse backgrounds and skills sets work amongst one another, as businesses employ a mix of low-skill and high-skill workers to keep them up and running. When low-income people are unable access employment opportunities within the suburbs, due to the cost and accessibility of public transit, they are prevented from contributing to the ecosystem of regional businesses. As low-income people become better connected to opportunities across the region, more resources can be diverted away from addressing the impacts of poverty to addressing other issues of regional importance.
The income disparity between high-and low-earners is profound and becoming more severe. The mean income of the richest fifth of Metro Boston households is $272,500, 18 times greater than the $14,900 mean income, (barely above the poverty line) of the fifth of households with the lowest income. Metro Boston’s 20/20 ratio has been consistently higher than the national average since 2006.
The income gap has widened considerably in the past ten years. The top-quintile to bottom-quintile (20/20) ratio is 2.4 points higher than it was in 2006 (15.9). Annual percent changes in income demonstrate how this gap has widened. From 2006 through 2008, most income groups saw steady increases in real income. But the Great Recession hit lower income households the hardest, and by 2011 even middle-income households were earning less than they did in 2006. Incomes Since that time, incomes across all ranges have increased, but the lowest quintile still earns, on average, 1% less than it did 10 years ago. Meanwhile, incomes for the top quintile were more modestly impacted by the recession, and grew faster in recent years; in 2015, real income for the top quintile was 13% higher than in 2006.
Even as income disparity worsened over the past ten years, tax policies did little to mitigate the changes through more progressive taxes. In fact, lower-income households pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than higher-income households. As documented in MAPC’s Regional Prosperity Indicators, the lowest-income fifth of Massachusetts households paid 10.4% of their income to taxes in 2015, a share twice as high as the highest-income households (those with incomes in the top 1%.) By this measure, regressiveness of the tax structure has worsened considerably since 1996, and may be contributing to reduced income mobility.
Another measure of income inequality is the Gini Index of Household Income Inequality. The Gini Index measures income distribution among households for a given geography. Gini index values range from 0.0, when all households have equal shares of income, to 1.0, when one household has all the income and the rest have none. Of the 25 most populous U.S. metro areas, Metro Boston has the 8th highest Gini Index of Household Income Inequality at 0.48. Other than a slight drop in 2009, the region has shown a near steady increase in its Gini Index value since 2006, and has had a Gini Index value greater than the nation every year since 2007.
While a middle-class existence remains a cornerstone of the American Dream, broader economic trends are making that harder to achieve. Due to industry shifts and shrinking wages, the region saw a net loss of middle-income working households between 1990 and 2014. Over that time period the number of working households (defined as a household with at least one wage earner who is not a student) in the Metro Boston region rose 23%. Yet, the
number of middle-income working households in
the region fell 2% from 333,000 to 325,000, and their share of working households declined from 33% to 26%. Meanwhile, the number of high-income working households rose 33% from 462,000 to 614,000, and their share increased from 45% to 49%; the number of low-income working households rose 40% from 223,000 to 312,000, and their share increased from 22% to 25%. Almost half the increase in low-income working households came from growth in extremely low-income working households.
During that period, the region has seen a decline in predominantly “middle-income occupations,” such as office, administrative, and maintenance jobs; a shift to lower-wage work in occupations such as sales and food preparation; and disproportionate growth in high-wage jobs in management, health care, and technology-related occupations. These patterns are problematic because they limit opportunities for moderately educated workers to earn enough for a comfortable existence, and reduce the potential for upward mobility.
If Metro Boston were completely integrated, the population in every neighborhood would resemble the demographics of the region: 72% White, 9% Latino, 8% Black, 8% Asian, and 3% another race or multiracial. However, such an equal distribution of White residents and people of color across neighborhoods is far from our current reality. The dissimilarity index measures whether one particular group is distributed across census tracts in the metropolitan area in the same way as another group. A high value indicates that the two groups tend to live in different tracts. The index ranges from 0 to 100, and a value of 60 (or above) is considered very high. It means that 60% (or more) of the members of one group would need to move to a different tract in order for the two groups to be equally distributed. Values of 40 or 50 are usually considered a moderate level of segregation, and values of 30 or below are considered to be fairly low.
In 2010, the dissimilarity index for Black-White segregation in the Greater Boston area was 61.5, down from 66.0 in 2000. The dissimilarity index for White-Latino segregation was 59.6, down from 62.5 in 2000. This translates to White residents of Metro Boston living in neighborhoods that are, on average, 83% White and only 4% Black. Black residents, by contrast, live in neighborhoods that average 43% White and 31% Black/African American. Likewise, Latino residents in Metro Boston live in neighborhoods that are about 31% Latino, while White residents lived in areas that are roughly 6% Latino.
In 2010, the Metro Boston region ranked thirteenth among the 100 largest metro areas for Black-White dissimilarity, sixth for the Latino-White dissimilarity, and ninth for Asian-White dissimilarity. The region’s rank has risen over recent decades, meaning that relative to other regions, our racial segregation is getting worse. In 1990, Metro Boston was ranked 19th among the top 100 metros for Black-White dissimilarity, and has moved up six positions since then.
In addition to being segregated by race, the region is also segregated by income, and many neighborhoods have a disproportionate concentration of either high-or low-income households. The Rank Order Information Theory Index (referred to here as the Neighborhood Income Segregation Index) is a measure that describes how much less income variation there is within the average neighborhood than there is in the metropolitan area as a whole.1 It ranges from a minimum of 0, meaning there is no income segregation (each neighborhood has the same income distribution as the entire metropolitan area), to a maximum of 1, meaning there is complete income segregation (no family lives in the same neighborhood as any other family with a different income than their own). The index can be calculated for all households, or for households in a specified income range, such as the highest-earning or lowest-earning 10% of households.
Data for the region indicate that income segregation has been increasing in Metro Boston over recent decades. The index rose from 0.082 in 1990 to 0.090 in 2000 and was estimated at 0.095 from 2010 – 2014. This change indicates that income diversity within neighborhoods is slowly declining. Compared to the top 100 Metro areas, Boston actually exhibits less economic segregation than its peers across the country, but recent increases are troubling.
The segregation of the lowest-income households has been dramatically worsening in recent decades, climbing from 0.076 in 1990 to 0.086 in 2000 and 0.099 in 2010-2014. This finding means that the lowest income households are increasingly concentrated in predominantly poor neighborhoods with little income diversity. This pattern runs counter to the trends observed in the top 100 metro areas across the country, where income segregation for the lowest-income households has actually decreased steadily since 1990.
The highest income households tend to be more isolated than low- or moderate income households, with an income segregation index of 0.130. While isolation of high-income households grew from 0.120 to 0.129 during the 1990s, it climbed moderately in the intervening years and declined very slightly since 2009.
The indicators above demonstrate that the region remains segregated by race and is increasingly segregated by income. How do these two types of segregation interact with each other? Do households of comparable incomes but different races/ethnicities live in similar neighborhoods? Is declining racial segregation benefiting people of color across the income spectrum, or only those at high incomes? New analysis of Census data over time helps to illuminate these questions.
The average White household earning $78,000 per year (the median household income for the Boston MSA) lives in a neighborhood where the median household income is $72,400 per year. Meanwhile, the average Black household earning the same amount ($78,000 per year) lives in a neighborhood where the median income is only $51,100 per year. In other words, the ratio of the neighborhood incomes for the two households is 0.69. This gap persists across all income levels, so that the average Neighborhood income ratio between same-income Black and White households is 0.69. Latinos and Asians have somewhat higher ratios when compared to whites (0.73 and 0.84, respectively) but disparities for all households of color relative to Whites have grown since 2000.
These findings are deeply troubling because they demonstrate the enduring influence of race on the neighborhood characteristics and opportunities experienced by children in the region. Long-term exposure to poverty has well-documented and negative impacts on the health, educational outcomes, and economic well-being of children. If middle-class Black and Latino families are disproportionately likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, it means that the children in those families won’t experience the same positive environment as their White peers, and will be less likely to achieve the same level of economic success as their parents. In other words, combined racial and economic segregation may not only be impeding upward mobility, it may be contributing to downward mobility for people of color.
Rectifying these disparities will require interventions that promote more mixed-income, mixed race communities in both urban and suburban areas. Revitalization of distressed urban communities, if conducted in a way that can prevent displacement of existing residents, can improve neighborhood conditions for low-income residents. The creation of moderate and low-income housing in suburban communities may also provide chances for low-income residents to make their home in neighborhoods with abundant assets and opportunities. The region must also take active steps to eliminate racial and economic discrimination, so that residents of all races and ethnicities have opportunities to live in the neighborhood of their choice.
Understanding Metro Boston’s demographic changes and project population growth is essential for contextualizing the racial, ethnic, and age disparities described in this report. For example, people of color, immigrants, and older adults are disproportionately affected by many of inequities documented here, and all three of those groups are growing rapidly in the region. Unless we address those inequities soon, they will affect a larger and larger share of the population over the coming decades, causing even greater problems and becoming harder to solve.
The total population of the MAPC region grew 3.1% from 2000 to 2010, from over 3,066,400 to 3,161,700 people. Over those past 10 years, the region has become more racially and ethnically diverse and has experienced a growth in the immigrant population. MAPC’s population projections1 indicate this trend will continue: by 2040 the region is projected to be at least 40% people of color. The region has also started to experience rapid growth in the population over 65 as the Baby Boomer generation ages into its older years. The senior population is projected to grow by 75% between 2010 and 2030. The proportion of youth of color within the region is growing, while the growing senior population is mostly White.
In 2000, 78.6% of the MAPC population was White, 7.1% was Black, 6.4% was Latino, 5.4% was Asian, and 2.5% was another race or multiracial. The population of color in the MAPC region grew 33.6% over ten years, from 657,102 to 878,118 people. By 2010, the Black population grew to 7.9% of the total population, the Latino population to 9.1%, the Asian population to 7.6% and the population that was another race or multiracial grew to 3.0% of the population. The White population, over that time, declined by 5.2%, and in 2010 made up 72.2% of the total population.
The region’s share of residents that were foreign-born grew 1.8% from 2000-2010. Residents from Latin America continue to represent the largest share of the foreign-born population within the region, at 37.2% in 2011-2015, though their share of the overall population has not changed significantly from 2005-2009. Residents from Asia comprise the second largest percentage of MAPC's foreign-born population at 32.4%. The Asian population grew 3.3 percentage points as a share of the foreign-born population between 2005-09 and 2011-15. The share of residents from Africa, though much smaller at 7.8%, grew by nearly 1 percentage point. Residents from Europe remain the third largest share of the foreign-born population in the region at 19.6%, but their share of the population has decreased by 3.3 percentage points. Residents from Canada make up only 2.6% of the population, which represents a 3.0 percentage point decrease from 2005-09.
Citizenship status and English language isolation can influence access that foreign-born people have to resources, opportunities, and civic engagement. Many public benefits such as federal education grants/loans, public housing, subsidized health insurance, supplemental nutritional assistance, and other types of assistance have citizenship or special immigrant eligibility requirements that many non-citizens do not meet. Non-citizens and naturalized citizens are critical to maintaining and growing our region’s population. If not for international in-migration, Massachusetts would have lost residents—and workers—between 2000 and 2010. Residents who are foreign-born have played an important role in spurring local economic development and strengthening municipal tax bases. In 2012, foreign-born residents contributed over $2.6 billion dollars in state and local taxes, with undocumented immigrants accounting for $196.0 million.1,2 Undocumented residents help pay for federal and state programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, however they are ineligible to benefit from these programs themselves. A 2008 study estimated that Massachusetts would lose approximately $12 billion in economic activity and over 55,000 jobs if undocumented immigrants were removed from the state.3 On the other hand, a more recent study from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that securing lawful permanent residence for undocumented immigrants would generate over $259 million in state and local taxes.4
Disability status is an important demographic characteristic as people with disabilities often experience discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment. Regionally, people with disabilities face inequities in educational outcomes (see Lifelong Learning) and poverty (see Poverty). During the period 2011-2015, approximately 11% of residents within the MAPC region are living with a disability, accounting for over 355,600 residents. The largest share of the disabled population are over the age of 75 (47%), with the smallest share representing people under the age of 18 (4%). This is not surprising, as many older adults develop disabilities as they age. This has important implications for the ability of the region’s older residents to age in place, while remaining active and socially connected.
A better understanding of disability in the region is essential to building inclusive and accessible communities that enable people with disabilities to participate fully and have their needs met. The US Census Bureau documents six disability types: hearing difficulty (deaf or having a serious difficulty in hearing), vision difficulty (blind or having a serious difficulty in seeing, even when wearing glasses), cognitive difficulty (having difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions due to physical, mental, or emotional illness), ambulatory difficulty (having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs), self-care difficulty (having difficulty bathing or dressing), and independent living difficulty (having difficulty doing errands alone because of a physical, mental, or emotional illness). A person may report multiple disabilities; the most prevalent disability types in the region are ambulatory disabilities (reported by 5.4% of the population), independent living disabilities (4.7%), and cognitive disabilities (4.4%). The three remaining disability types each hover at around 2% of the disabled population, with the lowest being a vision disability (1.8%).
The region is aging, with older residents more likely to be White, and the younger population growing more racially and ethnically diverse. In 2000, roughly 21% of the region’s population was 55 or older. By 2010, this percentage had risen four points to 25%. According to demographic projections, between 2000 and 2030, the older adult population in the MAPC region is projected to increase by 79%, while the total population will increase by only 9%.1 Over this time period, the proportion of older adults will increase from 10% to 22%. By 2030, the over-65 group will constitute more than one-quarter of the population in 37 out of the 101 communities in Greater Boston. Unlike previous generations, the aging baby boomers are expected to be healthier, more active, better educated, more likely to remain in the workforce, and more likely to participate in community life.
The region’s growing diversity is most notably observed in its younger residents. Approximately 40% of the population under the age of 18 and between ages 18-24 are people of color. The growing diversity of the young population also requires additional emphasis on our region’s ability to address the needs of young people including access to education, employment, recreational, and youth development opportunities that will prepare them for a prosperous and healthy adulthood. Conversely, only 15% of the over-65 population in 2010 was people of color, though this figure is likely to grow slowly in the coming years.
The region has made significant advancements that have lowered premature deaths, allowing more residents to live longer lives. Even as the population is living longer there are health disparities across racial/ethnic groups, geography, and educational attainment that indicate there are stark issues that persist and are growing that cause some groups, particularly Black and Latinos, to be sicker. These health disparities are observed across life stages for preventable chronic diseases.
Health starts where people live, work, play, and learn, determined in part by factors such as access health care; educational opportunities; stressors such as community violence and noise; access to healthy food; air quality; social influences; and behavioral decisions. The conditions in which people live explain in part why some populations are healthier than others.1 In the discussion of health equity, it is important to recognize the structural and institutional factors that influence an individual’s ability and inclination to make decisions that lead to better health for themselves or their family. Due to residential segregation, a person’s zip code has become a powerful predictor of an individual’s health.2 Nationwide, neighborhoods with a high percentage of people of color and low-income people are exposed to environmental injustices and hazards that impact nutrition, physical activity, morbidity, and mortality.3,4,5,6 The Metro Boston region is not exempt from structural inequities that have made the environmental conditions of some neighborhoods better than others. For example, in Boston, the census tract with the lowest life expectancy (58.9 years) is the neighborhood of Roxbury.7 This low-income community of color has experienced environmental injustices that have eroded air quality and access to healthy food. As with other environmental justice communities in the region, institutional racism and classism have created and perpetuated the conditions that limit the ability of the region’s most vulnerable residents to grow up healthy and stay healthy throughout their lives.
From 2005-2009 to 2010-2014, the rate of low birth weight1 (among singleton, or non-multiple births) has remained relatively constant at 5.4% in 2005-2009 and 5.3% in 2010-2014. The percentage of White low birth weight births were below average and experienced a slight 0.1 percentage point decrease, while the share of Black low birth weight babies remains the highest of all race/ethnicity groups. Despite, having the largest share of low birth weight babies, the Black population saw the greatest percentage point drop in low birth from 9.8% in 2005-2009 to 8.8% in 2010-2014. Black and Latino populations experienced a decrease in low birth weight births across all educational attainment levels during this timeframe. However, the White population as a whole experienced a decrease in low birth weight births, White mothers with less than a high school education experienced the greatest percentage point increase in low birth weight from 7.1% in 2005-2009 to 8.1% in 2010-2014.
An infant’s health is very closely associated with the health and socioeconomic characteristics of its birth parent.2,3,4 Birth parents who suffer from chronic disease, are low-income or unemployed, or have limited education are at higher risk for low birth weight pregnancies. Low birth weight increases risks of infant health problems and infant mortality. Low birth weight babies are more likely than those born at a normal weight to suffer later educational and developmental delays, as well as from adult health problems ranging from asthma to high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic problems.5 Low birth weight babies frequently require extra medical care throughout their lives and have more trouble in school, costing the region financially and hindering our future workforce. Improving the birth parent’s nutrition, access to prenatal care, as well as preventing smoking and elevating socioeconomic status can help to mitigate individual risk factors for low birth weight pregnancies. Environmental conditions are also important, as studies have shown that exposure to air pollutants can lead to low birth weight.6
Overall, MAPC region’s average annual rate of childhood lead poisonings fell from 5.06% in 2006-2010 to 1.92% in 2011-2015. There were significant decreases in the prevalence of blood lead levels, however disparities still persist geographically and racially. The Inner Core and Regional Urban Center community types experienced nearly double the rates of childhood poisoning (6.4% and 6.1%, respectively) in Maturing and Developing Suburbs (2.8% and 2.7%, respectively) in the MAPC region from 2011-2015. All blood lead level rates by race/ethnicity have significantly decreased. Black children saw the greatest decrease in annual average
No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead can harm the brain, kidneys, and nervous system of children. Some quantities have been shown to affect cognition, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) to identify children with blood lead levels higher than most children’s levels.1 An important source of elevated blood lead levels in children is lead paint, which is more likely to be found in older homes.2
As an infant gets older, their health continues to be shaped by physical factors of the environment as well as their parent or guardian’s access to family healthcare. Asthma is one such disease that is very sensitive to environmental factors, such as air quality. How well a parent or guardian is able to manage symptoms and seek treatment for their child is dependent on their access to healthcare. Within the region, the youth asthma hospitalization rate has increased by 22 hospitalizations per 100,000 from 2003-2007 to 2008-2012. This uptick in youth asthma hospitalization rate is driven by significant increases in the Black and Latino rates. Both the Black and Latino youth asthma hospitalization rates are above the regional average. The youth asthma hospitalization rate for the Black population is highest and has risen to 614 hospitalizations per 100,000, while the Latino rate is currently at 387 hospitalizations per 100,000. The gaps between the Black and White youth asthma hospitalization rate and the Latino and White youth asthma hospitalization rates have increased by 42 hospitalizations per 100,000 and 62 hospitalizations per 100,000 respectively.
As shown in this analysis, low-income children and youth of color are more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than White children of the same age. Asthma hospitalizations can greatly impact a young person’s performance in school, as they miss days of school, and interfere with a parent’s ability to work. Disparities in asthma hospitalization rates may reflect differences in neighborhood air quality, housing conditions, access to consistent medical care, or education about asthma management. Improvements in the neighborhood environment, health resources, and housing stock are key levers for eliminating asthma disparities. Reducing youth asthma rates while eliminating disparities in asthma hospitalization is one way the region could save healthcare costs, improve our workforce preparedness, and increase job security for parents.
As a region, age-adjusted1 hospitalization rates have increased for many chronic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma. Heart failure is the only chronic disease that has seen falling hospitalization rates. Within each disease category, health disparities by race persist and are growing. Across all indicators for this category, the Black population experiences the highest hospitalization rates: 223 per 100,000 for hypertension, 387 for diabetes, 541 for heart failure, 608 for COPD, and 428 for asthma. The rates of hospitalization for the Black population have either remained high or have significantly increased. The Latino population has above average hospitalization rates across all chronic disease indicators, and has experienced the fastest growing hospitalization rates for hypertension, diabetes, COPD, and asthma. The Native American population experienced a significant increase in heart failure hospitalizations, more than doubling, from 74 to 171 hospitalizations per 100,000. The heart failure hospitalization rate significantly increased for the Latino, Asian, and Native American population, while the White population was the only racial/ethnic group to have experienced a significant decrease. For hypertension and COPD, hospitalizations have increased overall, including increased hospitalization rates for the White population. For each of these diseases, the increase in White hospitalization rate has been the slowest among those that have experienced a significant increase.
The Center for Disease Control has labeled chronic diseases as the “public health challenge of the 21st Century.”2 Preventable chronic diseases may have a genetic component, but can be largely controlled by healthy behaviors such as healthy eating, regular exercise, smoking cessation, and limiting alcohol consumption.3 Often people think of these behaviors as solely individual choices, but there are many environmental and socioeconomic factors that influence the choices that individuals make about their health. Studies nationwide, have shown that people of color and low-income individuals are more likely to live in areas with limited open space, higher prevalence of liquor stores, and limited food options to meet recommended dietary guidelines.4,5,6,7 Addressing these land use and built environment factors must be part of the solution to solving the region’s health disparities. A comprehensive approach to tackling the region’s public health challenges must aim to improve health outcomes for racial and ethnic groups overrepresented by poor health outcomes, while preventing increases in poor health outcomes across all racial and ethnic groups.
The premature mortality rate within the region has decreased from 303 premature deaths per 100,000 to 280 premature deaths per 100,000 residents, meaning that as a region residents are living longer lives. Premature mortality measures the number of deaths, of all causes, for people under the age of 75. The changes driving this trend can be attributed to lower premature mortality rates in the White and Black populations, while premature mortality of the Asian, Latino, and Native-American population have remained steady and below average at 108, 139, and 222 premature deaths per 100,000, respectively. Although the Black population only makes up 7.9% of the population in the region, they represent the racial group with the highest premature mortality rate at 348 premature deaths per 100,000. The gap between Black and White premature mortality rates have narrowed slightly, by two deaths per 100,000.
Premature mortality takes an emotional and financial toll on individuals and families. Economically, lost wages, medical costs, and diminished economic productivity of sick people create a burden for individuals, families, employers, and the region. While individual biology and behaviors such as smoking, diet, and physical activity help shape one’s risk of dying young, societal-level factors are also vitally important. Differences in income, environmental quality, housing, and education determine the exposure to risk factors that directly influence morbidity and mortality. Changes at the neighborhood-level to improve socioeconomic conditions and environmental quality can help reduce geographic and racial/ethnic disparities in the risk of dying young, and could lower Metro Boston’s premature mortality rate even further.
The education that an individual receives when they are very young can continue to impact them as they move throughout life. Children with early learning opportunities often have better educational outcomes throughout primary school and are then able to attend high achieving high schools, leading to more postsecondary education opportunities. Since earnings and economic independence are highly related to educational attainment,1 education provides substantial return on investment for the public sector.
Metro Boston is making positive strides in advancing educational attainment, but persistent gaps still prevent marginalized residents from participating in a competitive and innovative economy. With the shifting nature of employment, a postsecondary degree is an increasingly important asset in the labor market. In fact, Regional Prosperity Indicators revealed that the region has already experienced a decline in mid-skill jobs (typically reserved for individuals with some college or associate’s degrees) and there are currently more residents with a high school diploma or less than there are available low-skill jobs. With slow rates of in-migration from other states, it is essential that Metro Boston makes the most of its home-grown workforce, and that starts with a solid education.
Education data indicates that there are a substantial number of economically disadvantaged students in the Metro Boston region, and they tend to be concentrated in a small number of districts. As a region, approximately 22% of all public school students are economically disadvantaged, meaning they participate in one or more of the following programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children, the Department of Children and Families' foster care program, or MassHealth (Medicaid). The majority of Latino (81%) and Black (77%) students go to school in districts where more than 25% of students are economically disadvantaged. In contrast 41% of Asian students attend school in these districts, and only 21% of White students. Since the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently changed the methodology for characterizing school poverty, it is not possible to determine how these patterns have changed in recent years, but MAPC will monitor these rates moving forward and report on them in the future.
Poverty within public schools has many adverse impacts on a young person’s educational outcomes and future opportunities. School poverty is associated with low academic achievement for children of all incomes who attend those schools. In the United States, high poverty schools have been associated with fewer highly qualified teachers, worse student performance on national tests, higher dropout rates, and a lower rate of students enrolling in four-year institutions.1 In a national study, it was discovered that an academic achievement gap exists between students of the same socioeconomic status that attend high-poverty versus low-poverty schools.2 Students from impoverished families attending high-poverty schools were at the worst disadvantage. Additionally, attendance at a high poverty schools can exacerbate individual and family risk factors such as food insecurity and limited resources at home.3 For these reasons, addressing school poverty requires addressing the socioeconomic conditions of a neighborhood, as well as conditions of the school itself.
Low-income youth, youth of color, immigrant youth, youth with learning or other disabilities, and urban youth face educational disadvantages from an early age. These disparities are present in the reported Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) academic achievement exams administered (beginning in the third grade) to all public school students in the Commonwealth. While standardized testing is not a comprehensive measure of student or school performance, they do provide one important measure which is comparable across districts.1
Overall, reading proficiency for the third grade student population in the region increased by 1 percentage point to 62% between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 school years. The results also show persistent educational disparities based on race and ethnicity, English language proficiency, and special education status, though there were some improvements. Despite gains in reading proficiency among 3rd grade Black (up 5 points to 37%) and Latino (up 1 point to 34%) students, their scores remain 25 and 28 points below the regional average of 62% proficient in the 2013-14 school year. The share of English-proficient White third graders grew 1 percentage points to 71% proficient or advanced, and Asian third grade proficiency grew 3 percentage points to 72%. Third grade English language learners have a proficiency rate of only 26%, and students with special needs have a rate of only 25%. Third graders with special needs are the only group of those analyzed that saw a decline (1 point) in reading proficiency over this time. Economically disadvantaged students have a reading proficiency rate of 38%.
Early gaps in reading scores are often difficult to overcome and can help to explain some of the disparities seen in high school educational achievement and graduation rates. At the end of third grade, students should be transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” According to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Reading proficiently by the end of third grade…can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development.”2 The National Research Council reports that a student without modest reading skills by the end of third grade is unlikely to graduate from high school.3 As youth of color make up an increasing percentage of the population, the region’s economic vitality and knowledge economy is threatened unless we address barriers preventing traditionally disadvantaged students from thriving in school.
Overall high school educational outcomes have shown a marked improvement since the 2011 State of Equity report. The region’s high school graduation rate has increased 1.4 percentage points and continues to increase across racial and ethnic groups and for English language learner and low-income students. The 4-year graduation rate has increased the most for Latino students at 5.1 percentage points and has increased 3.3 percentage points for Black students. However, there continues to be a stark difference between the graduation rates of Latino and Black students compared to Asian and White students. Both the Black and Latino graduation rates are below the regional average of 88.8% at 73.3% and 77.5%, respectively. The graduation rates for English language learner and low-income students are both below the regional average, with English language learner students graduating at the lowest rate of all subgroups at 61.9%. Municipalities with some of the lowest graduation rates include Chelsea (60.9%), Boston (70.7%), and Lynn (74.9%).
High school dropout rates for the region tell a similar story as graduation rates. Overall, students dropped out at a lower rate in 2014-15 (1.6%) compared to 2008-09 (2.6%), but notable differences remain between subgroups. Black, Latino, and Special Education students dropped out at higher rates than the average at 3.0%, 4.2%, and 2.2%, respectively. Asian and White students had lower-than-average dropout rates, at 0.6% and 0.8%, respectively.
Regionally, more high schoolers are performing better on standardized tests in 2014-15 compared to 2008-09. At the high school level, MCAS scores are important because they partially determine a student’s ability to graduate. The MCAS math test is used as the indicator for high school educational performance because science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are leading fields within the nation and the region’s economy. If high schoolers are to have opportunities to tap into these high-skill jobs, they must be proficient in math. Overall, tenth grade math proficiency increased 4 percentage points to 82% between 2008-09 and 2014-15. Asian and White tenth graders have above average math proficiency at 94% and 88%, respectively. However, Black and Latino tenth graders are only 62% math proficient, despite having the highest increases (9 percentage points and 7 percentage points, respectively) in math proficiency test scores over this time period. Economically disadvantaged tenth graders in the region have a math proficiency rate of 66%. Tenth grade English language learners have the lowest math proficiency rate of the groups analyzed, at 38%.
High school is a critical time for many young people navigating their independence and learning how to support themselves as adults. These upward trends in high school educational outcomes are a good sign for the future of the region’s youth. As young people in the region become more educated and better informed to make decisions about their futures, more of them are choosing to pursue higher educational opportunities. Ultimately, this should open the door for them to high-skill jobs. Between 2008-09 and 2014-15, the percentage of high-school students in districts with more than 25% students of color that intend to go to a 4-year college increased from 55.6% to 63.8%. These aspirations remain lower than high school students in schools with less than 25% students of color which increased from 70.2% to 74.0%, but the gap is closing.
Metro Boston is becoming a more educated region, with more residents completing college and advanced degree programs, though educational achievement gaps by race/ethnicity persist. Since 2005 – 2009, the share of people with less than a high school degree has decreased 2.1 percentage points and with just a high school diploma has also decreased 2.1 percentage points. The percentage of the population with some college or an Associate’s Degree has remained consistent, while the population with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher has increased 3.3 percentage points. All racial/ethnic groups experienced a decrease in the percentage of the population with less than a high school education. This reduction was greatest for the Latino population (3.2 percentage points), which has the lowest share of high school graduates. For the population with a high school diploma, the White population was the only group that experienced a significant decrease in share of 2.5 percentage points. Across all racial/ethnic groups the percentage of the population with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher increased. However, the largest gains came from the White population which increased 4.4 percentage points. For the Black, Latino, and Asian populations this increase was only between 1.8 percentage point and 2.6 percentage points. The Black and Latino populations continue to have many fewer individuals with a bachelors degreethan their Asian and White peers.
By increasing the supply of highly-educated workers, the trends in educational attainment positions the region well to grow economically. It is especially critical to ensure that rapidly growing communities of color have access to educational opportunities that enable economic mobility. It is also important to note that a bachelors degree does not come without a cost; the rising costs of education and ensuing student debt burden are problematic, particularly for students from lower-income backgrounds. For more on this, see Regional Prosperity Indicators.
An equitable region is one in which all people are able to stay safe and out of trouble. For young people, a large part of remaining safe means being engaged in school and after-school youth development opportunities. For communities, safety means residents are able to move about freely without becoming a victim of crime or violence. Even though crime manifests at an interpersonal level, it is often influenced by the socioeconomic characteristics of a neighborhood. Studies have shown that communities with a high concentration of poverty and income inequality tend to have higher crime rates.1,2,3 Other studies have explained the role that race plays in the American criminal justice system. Implicit and explicit racial bias in policing and arrests leads to more convictions and tougher sentencing of people of color who commit similar crimes as White people.4,5,6 In Massachusetts, people of color are overrepresented within the justice system composing only 18% of the state’s population but 56% of the state’s incarcerated population in 2015.7,8 In order for Metro Boston residents to remain safe and out of trouble, there needs to focused attention on the socioeconomic factors that contribute to observed disparities in school disciplinary action, crime, and incarceration. By addressing these underlying disparities, policies and initiatives can be made to build and maintain safe communities throughout the region.
The school-to-prison pipeline1 is a concept that describes repeated and escalating interactions of youth with school disciplinarians, the juvenile justice system, and the criminal justice system, ultimately leading to incarceration. This “pipeline” can be accelerated by zero-tolerance policies that favor the use of exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsion) instead of counseling or alternative discipline mechanisms. Such policies disproportionately affect students of color, low-income students, and special education students, who then spend less time engaged in learning. Studies have shown that these students are not necessarily more prone to misbehavior than their peers; but policies and discrimination make them more likely be punished than White students.2,3 Research has shown a link between exclusionary discipline rates and declines in exposure to academic curricula, as students miss valuable classroom time during their suspensions or expulsions and find it increasingly hard to keep up.4
The national rise of “zero tolerance” policies in schools has allowed for exclusionary disciplinary measures, such as suspensions and expulsions, to be immediate and automatic with little to no flexibility for individual circumstances. Despite its widespread use, research has shown that exclusionary discipline is not an effective deterrent for student misbehavior5,6 and that it actually has serious negative impacts on educational outcomes and juvenile crime.7,8
Massachusetts has taken proactive steps to restrict the use of zero-tolerance policies within its public schools. In 2012, Massachusetts legislature adopted Chapter 222: An Act Relative to Student Access to Educational Services and Exclusion from School, which established mechanisms to consider alternatives to suspension for non-serious offenses9 and mandated additional mechanisms for supporting youth in achieving and maintaining academic success.
Following the passage of Chapter 222, the region’s in-school suspention rate declined from 1.5% in 2012 to 1.4% in 2015. Over the same period, the out-of-school suspension rate declined from 3.4% to 2.4% of all students. Despite overall decreases across districts, the rates of disciplinary action continue to remain the highest within majority student of color school districts. In school year 2015, the rate of in-school suspension (2.1%) within majority student of color districts is 1.1 percentage points higher than in school districts which are more than 75% White. For out-of-school suspensions, the rate of out-of-school suspensions in majority student of color districts (4.8%) is 3.7 percentage points higher than in districts with 25% of fewer students of color. An evaluation of the first year of Chapter 222 implementation (2014-2015) has further shown that in addition to students of color, low-income students receive disciplinary action 1.75 times above the state rate and special education students receive disciplinary action at double the state rate.10 This evaluation also mentioned that MA DESE statistics on school suspensions are likely underreported due to errors in following due process and the occurrence of emergency removals and partial-day suspensions which aren’t captured in the statistics, but have been documented by parents and education advocates.
In the Metro Boston region, the areas with high poverty and high concentrations of people of color tend to be municipalities in the Inner Core and they are associated with higher crime rates. Throughout the state, both violent crime1 and property crime2 rates have decreased steadily each year from 2009-2015, however this geographic inequity in the distribution of crime remains. Violent crime has decreased 14.4% with 3.9 violent crimes occurring per 1,000 residents; and property crime has decreased 26.5% with 16.9 property crimes occurring per 1,000 residents. Chelsea, Lynn, and Boston continue to have the highest violent crime rates in the region with 10.8, 7.8, and 7.1 violent crimes committed per 1,000 in 2015. Adjacent Inner Core communities such as Somerville, Cambridge, and Everett had violent crime rates per 1,000 of 2.4, 3.0, and 3.4 respectively. By contrast more affluent municipalities in maturing and developing suburbs such as Weston, Hanover, and Wayland continue to have much lower rates at under 0.1 crimes per 1,000 people.
Crime influences the ability of people to be safe within their communities, while restricting an individual’s sense of freedom, their ability to feel safe within their home, and opportunities to connect with neighbors. Living within a residentially segregated area where poverty is concentrated can increase the likelihood of higher property crime rates.3 For residents living in high crime neighborhoods there is increased stress and fear that can reduce the quality and closeness of social relationships, restrict mobility, and can lead parents to limit their children’s outdoor activities. These effects of crime have associated health impacts such as worsened mental health and reduced physical activity.4,5,6 In addition, high crime areas remain economically segregated as outsiders do not venture to these areas and participate in the local economy. Thus crime is recognized as both a consequence and determinant of community socioeconomic status, with high crimes rates creating conditions that uphold residential segregation and isolation that further perpetuate crime. At a regional scale, areas with high crime are also more likely to be areas where more of the population faces incarceration, which can ultimately impact household incomes and the regional economy.
Nationally, there has been mounting attention focused on mass incarceration in the United States and its long-lasting impacts on marginalized communities. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 693 people per 100,000 incarcerated accounting for over two million people nationwide.1,2 Black (13% of total US population) Latino (16% of US population), and Native American (0.9% of total US population) people are overrepresented within the incarcerated population at 39%, 19%, and 1% of the national incarcerated population respectively.3 In order to break this national cycle of mass incarceration, it is becoming increasingly more important to address its root causes. Research suggests that the main drivers of disparities in incarceration rates are inequitable access to resources, rigid and inflexible legislation (eg; mandatory minimums), and discrimination in policing and sentencing.4,5 To better understand how to influence these drivers, it is first necessary to understand the demographics of the region’s incarcerated population.
The state incarceration rate has decreased nearly 12% from 11,361 on January 1, 2010 to 10,014 in January 1, 2016. However, despite noticeable decreases, disparities still persist as Native American, Black, and Latino populations continue to have above average incarceration rates. The average institutional length of stay in a Massachusetts prison is approximately 2.5 years, meaning that many incarcerated people within the state end up getting released. Within our region, the Inner Core receives the highest number of returning former prisoners in the state while Developing Suburbs receives the lowest. Boston, Lynn, and Quincy received the highest number of returning formerly incarcerated people on average from 2009-2016. The state’s average three-year recidivism rate6 has decreased 7 percentage points from 2008-2012 to 32%.7,8,9 Several national studies demonstrate that there are additional marginalized groups that are overrepresented within the nation’s incarcerated population including low-income people, people with disabilities, the homeless, and LGBTQ+ people.10,11,12,13 However, our understanding of the inequities facing these marginalized groups within the region is limited because these characteristics are not captured within federal and state reporting.
Inequities in incarceration follow clear socioeconomic and geographic trends that carry significant implications for individuals, families, communities, and the region. For individuals, encounters with the criminal justice system can have long-term impacts on earning power and employability, as well as mental and physical health.14,15 Approximately, 38% of the incarcerated population in 2015 was convicted as a young adult (ages 20-29).16 Young adults that get caught in the criminal justice system are often the ones with limited opportunities to get ahead, who are further isolated from opportunities to change the course of their lives while incarcerated. Furthermore, formerly incarcerated people can be denied voting rights, limiting opportunities to feel a part of their community; they can also be denied access to public housing and federal welfare programs that could help them get back on their feet once released. Incarceration also impacts families through increased financial strain and negative impacts on child development.17,18 Children with incarcerated parents are at risk for mental health and educational performance issues, which can further propel them into the school-to-prison pipeline. Addressing the inequities present within the justice system will require policies and programs that address racial bias within the justice system, rehabilitate incarcerated people and prepare them to re-enter society, prevent discrimination against formerly incarcerated people, and provide support the families of formerly incarcerated people.
Gainful employment and livable wages are the foundation for financial security and a high quality of life. When young people participate in the workforce early, they gain valuable life skills that are necessary throughout life and are attractive to future employers. For low-income young people, working also provides the opportunity to contribute to family expenses and reduce financial hardships. Even though the region’s adult workforce is diverse, well-educated, and innovative, disparities in educational attainment, job qualifications, and unemployment are limiting opportunities for some residents to make a good living. Labor market shifts reinforce the increasing importance of education and advanced training. Job losses in manufacturing and construction, two sectors that traditionally offer a path to the middle class for workers without college degrees, correspond to stagnating wages, disparate unemployment rates for less-educated workers, and decreasing labor force participation rates (people either working or actively looking for a job) among workers without a college degree.
Employment opportunities in an equitable region must be available to people with a diversity of socioeconomic characteristics such as age, income, and educational attainment. An equitable workforce also includes workers who experience additional social and economic hardships, such a people with disabilities, the homeless, and formerly incarcerated people. Employing all people who want to participate in the labor force with a livable wage would reduce local dependence on public benefits, reduce poverty, increase tax revenues, and increase the quality of life for residents of Metro Boston. In addition, more participation of marginalized populations in the work force will strengthen the ability of the region to compete economically at home and abroad in an increasingly globalized world.
If you would like to find more in depth information about the state of our region’s workforce please visit Regional Prosperity Indicators.
A young person’s participation in the labor force is key to their long-term prosperity. While many youth do not work while they are in school, the majority do work for one reason or another. Some youth work to gain experience for a future career, some work to help pay the bills at home, some work so they can buy things their parents won’t buy for them, and some work for a combination of these reasons. In Metro Boston, 61% of youth ages 16 to 24 are either working or looking for a job, whether or not they are in school. Among youth who are not in school, approximately 9% are not working, because they are either unemployed or not actively looking for a job. Youth participation in the labor force is disparate by race and ethnicity. The rate of unemployment for Black youth (17%) is more than double that of White youth (8%), and for Latino youth (12%) it is one and a half times greater. Latino youth are 3 times more likely (11%), and Black youth twice as likely (8%), to be both unenrolled in school and not in the labor force, compared to White youth (4%). Nearly half of the region’s Asian youth (47%) are in school but neither working nor looking for work, the highest rate among the racial and ethnic groups.
The labor force patterns that teenagers and young adults take on early in life are strong predictors of their labor force patterns as adults, and are correlated with lifetime earnings and upward mobility.1,2 With projections3 that 32% of the region’s young working-age population will be people of color by 2030, eliminating disparities in the youth labor force is critical to supporting youth development and economic possibilities for their future.
The labor force participation rate—the share of the working age population that is working or looking for work—is an important indicator of economic health. In good economic times, a high participation rate means there are lots of workers in jobs or ready to fill jobs. In tough economic times, workers unable to find a job can become discouraged and leave the labor force. The U.S. experienced this sort of discouragement after the Great Recession, but has seen an increasing participation rate since 2015.1 In Metro Boston, the labor force participation rate for working age adults remained relatively stable during and after the Great Recession. Yet, while some groups in the region thrived through the recovery, not all groups maintain their pre-recession participation rates, as of 2015.
Working age adults with a college degree participate in the labor force at a higher rate than those without a college degree, and those without a high school diploma participate at the lowest rate. College educated adults are the only group, by educational attainment, with a labor force participation rate higher in 2015 (88.4%) than it was in 2008 (87.6%), though just barely. Working age adults without a college degree are participating at a lower rate in 2015 (77.4%) than they were in 2008 (79.4%). This is troubling implications for regional equity because as showing in the Lifelong Learning section, the Black and Latino populations have lowest rates of education attainment within the region. It is also a warning sign for the region’s economy, which faces potential labor shortages as Baby Boomers retire over the next 15 years, necessitating a large pool of available labor to fill vacant positions. Low labor force participation rates among some groups means that the region is not taking full advantage of its available labor supply.
The unemployment rate—workers without a job who are actively looking for one, as a share of the labor force—is a key indicator of economic stability. Workers who can’t find a job often face financial hardship without a steady income, and are a missed opportunity for the workforce. As of December 2016, the official unemployment rate for the Metropolitan Boston area was 2.5%,1 the lowest it’s been since before 1990, and the lowest among metropolitan areas in the U.S. with a population of a million or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.2 Yet, still, there are thousands of residents in the region struggling to get a job, and many have jobs that force them into part-time work when they would rather work full time.
Unemployment gaps by educational attainment, race and ethnicity, and disability status remain large. Metro Boston residents with disabilities who are seeking work have an unemployment rate (16.6%) that is more than double the regional average (6.3%3). For an adult in the region without a college degree, the unemployment rate is double or more of that for an adult with a college degree. For an adult without a high school diploma it is more than triple. The regional unemployment rate for the Black population (12.6%) is more than double that of Whites (5.7%), and for Latinos (10.3%) it is nearly double. Across all educational attainment levels, Black Metro Boston residents have the highest rate of unemployment of any race or ethnicity (see more in Prosperity Indicators).
The region is becoming more diverse every year, and demographic projections show that the share of workers of color in the labor force will continue to grow over the next several decades.4 It is essential to create an active adult workforce by closing the labor force participation and educational attainment gaps across race/ethnicity and community type. Workers across all educational attainment levels must be able to connect to jobs with livable wages and employee benefits that match their qualifications. In addition, the region must work to address access to employment for other marginalized populations such as people with disabilities, formerly incarcerated people, and transgender/gender non-conforming people who face higher rates of employment discrimination nationwide.5,6.7
After adjusting for inflation, median wages have changed little over the past five years. Householders headed by someone is White, Asian, and Latino saw no statistically significant increase or decrease in median income since 2009. Over that same time period, median income declined for Black households, falling from $45,800 to $43,600, the only statistically significant change of any race or ethnic group. As a result, there remain significant disparities in median income by race and ethnicity. The median income of Black and Hispanic households are just over half of the median income for White and Asian households.
Regional poverty grew by 1.1 percentage point between 2005-09 and 2011-15. This increase can be attributed to significant increases in poverty for White residents of the region. There was no significant change in the poverty rate for Black, Latino, or Asian residents. Despite the 0.4 percentage point increase in poverty rate for White residents of the MAPC region, their 7.0% poverty rate remains less than the regional average of 10.8% and is less than a third of the rate for Black residents (21.5%) and Latino residents (24.5%). By geography, poverty remains pervasive in the Inner Core where cities including Boston, Chelsea, and Lynn have the highest poverty rate while suburban municipalities outside of the core such as Dover, Sherborn, and Lynnfield, have some of the lowest poverty rates. Stark gaps exist between the poverty rate of people with disabilities and people without disabilities across all age groups. Youth and adults under 65 with disabilities have the highest poverty rate, approximately 26% each, while older adults with a disability have a poverty rate of 14.5%. In each age category, people with disabilities have approximately 2-3 times the poverty rate of people without disabilities.
The implications of increasing poverty are serious, as poverty can cause a cascade of negative impacts at the individual, neighborhood, and regional scale. Individuals and families living in poverty are less likely than their wealthier counterparts to have adequate housing and nutritious food.1 Poverty is linked to worse educational outcomes for children, which subsequently impacts their access to higher educational opportunities.2
Adults over the age of 65 are continuing to work through their retirement years more and more. Across all races and ethnicities, the post-recession labor force participation rates are trending up for adults over 65, although rates are still much lower than those of working-age adults. Older adults may be working more because we are living longer (see Premature Mortality), because they are happy at their place of employment, or because they are facing financial troubles that force them to maintain a reliable source of income. Within the region, Older White adults have the highest labor force participation rates, at 23%, and older Asian adults have the lowest at just under 17%. The unemployment rate among older adults (5.4%) is lower than that of the population 25 to 64, though only by about one percentage point. Unemployment gaps by race among older adults are also smaller for older Black adults than working-age Black adults, but they are about the same for older Latino adults.
As more and more of the region’s Baby Boomers reach retirement age, this trend of increasing older adult labor force participation will mean more and more older adults in the workforce. As the older population continues to become more racially and ethnically diverse (see Population by Age), continuing to close unemployment gaps for those working past the age of 65 will be important for the continued well-being of the region’s older adults into the later stages of life.
Access to housing is a basic human need that impacts individuals across life stages and influences health, safety, performance at school or work, and ability to generate wealth. Metro Boston has some of the highest housing costs in the nation. Although incomes tend to be higher than the national average, for many it is still a struggle to make ends meet. The lack of affordable housing options for all of Metro Boston residents impacts the region’s ability to support young families and a thriving economy. Half the region’s renters are housing cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their household income on rent, and 30% of the region’s homeowners are cost burdened. While the overall rate of housing cost burden is slightly down since 2005, more recently, the rate of housing cost burden has been trending on divergent paths, up for renters and down for homeowners. Disparities in homeownership by race continue to persist, limiting opportunities for families of color to close the racial wealth gap. The region’s challenges include boosting our supply of affordable housing, reducing utility costs for our aging housing stock, and creating housing for populations with unique needs such as the elderly, people with disabilities, and the homeless, as well as ensuring access to quality housing for low-income and single parent families.
A household is considered “housing cost burdened” if it dedicates more than 30% of its person’s income to housing costs, including mortgage payments, rent, and utilities. Severe cost burden entails spending more than 50% of household income on housing. As of 2015, approximately 18.3% of homeowners are moderately cost burdened (30-50% of income is spent on housing) and 12.5% are severely cost-burdened. The share of homeowners estimated to be cost burdened has decreased 5.5 percentage points between 2005-09 and 2011-15. This decline may be attributed to depressed sale prices which in many locations have not yet recovered the losses suffered during the Great Depression, or to historically low interest rates which reduce financial costs substantially. For renters, there has been no significant change in housing cost burden from 2005-2009 and 2011-2015. Approximately 24.7% of renter households are moderately cost burdened and 24.8% are severely cost burdened. While the rate of cost burden held fairly steady between 2005 and 2011 for both renters and owners, since 2012 the rate of cost burden has been trending up for the renter population and down for the homeowner population, indicating a growing housing cost burden gap between homeowners and renters and underscoring the vulnerability of the region’s renters.
There are also disparities in housing cost burden by age, with older adults (ages 65 and older) being more cost burdened than younger adults. Owner households headed by an older adult are the only group of homeowners over the age of 24 that did not experience a decline in housing cost burden between 2005-09 and 2011-15. Their rate of housing cost burden held steady between 37% and 38%, while owner householders age 35 to 64 dropped 6 points from 35% to 29%, and the rate for owner households with a householder ages 25 to 34 dropped 16 points from 44% to 29%. For renter households, no group of householders over the age of 25, by age, saw much change in rate of housing cost burden. Renter households with a householder 65 years or older maintain the highest rate of cost burden, at close to 60%.
High housing costs can create financial distress for households. A lack of disposable income limits household choices for food, transportation, recreation, and educational enrichment. Residents who must survive on tight budgets have limited resources to handle financial shocks and unexpected life events, making them among the most vulnerable to the impacts of unemployment and health crises. Neighborhoods with a high concentration of cost-burdened residents are at risk of rapid population turnover when housing costs rise slightly or when these households face economic setbacks. Research suggests that residential displacement may negatively impact mental health, child health, chronic disease, and access to healthcare facilities in already marginalized populations.1,2 Tempering the rising cost of living will be a critical step in ensuring that all Metro Boston residents can have enough income to make a home and remain financially stable.
The opportunity to own a home is a part of the American Dream that has not always been afforded to all residents, with the legacy of slavery, redlining, and discriminatory lending practices setting the stage for the large gaps in homeownership by race and ethnicity that exist today. Growing income disparities also limit homeownership opportunities, particularly affecting people of color, people with disabilities, people who were formerly incarcerated, and the LGBTQ+ community. During the Great Recession, the homeownership rate in Metro Boston declined from 65% in 2007 to 61% in 2011, where it has continued to hover through 2015. White householders, householders with a college degree, and householders over 65 years of age own their homes at the highest rate, close to 70% for all three groups. Householders who are Black and Latino own their homes at the lowest rates, 36 and 43 percentage points lower than their White counterparts, respectively. Not only do older adults have the highest homeownership rate at 70%, they are also much less likely to have a mortgage (61%). Nevertheless, older adults have the highest rates of owner-occupied housing cost burden in the region.
Any discussion of this topic must acknowledge both the pros and cons of homeownership. Owning a home builds wealth and enhances housing stability, but it also reduces geographic mobility (the ability to move when needed), isn’t available to the lowest income residents, and creates fiscal incentives for homeowners to oppose new housing development. Even as the region moves to close the homeownership gap, it should also acknowledge the very real and pressing need for rental housing.
Discriminatory lending practices remain a significant barrier to homeownership, even for high-income people of color. Regionally, denial rates for all high-income applicants (those with incomes over 120% of the Area Median Income, or approximately $118,000 in 2015) dropped from 9.9% to 9.1% between 2009 and 2015. Denial rates for high-income applicants who are Black and Latino are substantially higher than their White or Asian counterparts, though the gaps have narrowed in recent years. For high-income Black applicants, the denial rate dropped 4.7 percentage points, from 25.3% to 20.6%, but remains more than double the overall rate. For high-income Latino applicants, the denial rate dropped 3.3 points from 18.3% to 15.0%. As a result, high-income applicants who are Black or Latino are denied a mortgage at rates that are 7 to 12 percentage points higher than high-income applicants who are White.
Since homeownership gaps play a key role in the nation’s widening racial wealth gap,1 the racial disparities in Metro Boston homeownership rates and home loan denial rates are limiting the capacity of Metro Boston residents of color to build wealth.
Metro Boston’s residents, young and old, depend on the region’s transportation system to connect them to school, work, services, and recreational activities. Despite the multi-modal ways residents of the region get around, transportation improvements have tended to promote auto mobility (the ability to drive around the region as quickly as possible) rather than emphasizing accessibility (the ability to easily access important destinations or opportunities.) As a result, many residents face substantial challenges when commuting to work, getting to the doctor’s office, or visiting friends. This is especially true for low-income households who don’t own a vehicle, young people without a driver’s license, and people with mobility impairments. Those individual and household constraints are compounded by historical and ongoing disparities in transit service provision for low-income communities and communities of color.1,2
Our analysis shows that the region’s commuters of color often spend longer commuting than their White counterparts; and often pay more for it. National research has demonstrated transportation costs are regressive: households in the lower third of the income range dedicated 15.7% of their income to transportation in 2014, compared to 8.2% for households in the upper third of the national income range.3 Similar patterns exist in Metro Boston, and are exacerbated by policies to repeatedly raise MBTA fares while the real dollar value of the gas tax continues to decline. Thankfully, through the efforts of advocates and policy makers, there are moves to make transportation more accessible for the communities who need it most. Set in motion by multi-year community organizing campaign led by youth from the region’s Inner Core, a new MBTA Youth Pass program was launched in February 2017 that provides discounted fares to young people age 12-25 in Boston, Chelsea, Malden, and Somerville. Ensuring that low-income youth across the region continue to be able to afford public transportation through programs such as the Youth Pass is a critical step in equitable transportation.
Equitable transportation means providing a range of transportation options in low-income communities and communities of color that are affordable, trustworthy, and sustainable. Without a range of transportation options, particularly public transit and safe pedestrian/ bicycle infrastructure, marginalized communities may experience disproportionate impacts from vehicular emissions. Equitable transit-oriented development is also important because it establishes protections to prevent residential and commercial displacement, which at times can accompany investments in public transportation within low-income communities.
Low-income families of color are less likely to own a vehicle than are White and high-income households. Households without a vehicle therefore have less accessibility to jobs and other opportunities, including extracurricular activities and recreation. While the regional average number of vehicles per household is 1.57, Black and Latino households have an average of 1.11 and 1.05 cars per household, respectively. Asian households tend to own slightly more cars (1.37), while White households tend to have more vehicles available to them (1.67) than the regional average. In the context of these disparities, it is clear that efforts to reduce vehicle ownership and miles driven should focus on households that already have high vehicle ownership, so as not to increase the disparity; and investments should also focus on providing more transportation choices to communities of color so fewer households feel the need to acquire a vehicle and all the cost and hassle that goes with it.
As the region’s population ages and the share of older adults in the region grows, it is important to address the challenges faced by older adults who live by themselves or in assisted living facilities. Those who live by themselves are more vulnerable in the event of a medical or weather emergency. Likewise, older adults experiencing social isolation are at a greater risk for number of health issues (e.g., chronic illnesses and depression).1 Regionally 66% of older adults live alone, 30% live in households with other people, and 4% live in group quarters (such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities) from 2011-2015. Approximately 70% of the older adults living along are women, while 30% are men. As a result, older adult women may be more prone to social isolation than their male counterparts.
It is also important to acknowledge that older adults in assisted living facilities may be more vulnerable to racial discrimination which can impact their living conditions and quality of care. One national study discovered that older adults who are Black are more likely than White older adults to live in poorer quality nursing homes with too few staff, serious deficiencies that pose physical threats residents, and financial challenges.2
Approximately 9.8% of the region’s older adults live in poverty, just below the regional poverty rate. Between 2005-2009 and 2011-15 there has been no significant change in the percentage of older adults living in poverty throughout the region. Even if this poverty rate for older adults holds steady, the substantial growth in the older adult population in the coming decades (projected to grow 75% from 2010 to 2030) will result in a much larger number of older adults in poverty. Of the region’s impoverished older adults, 15.7% are grandparents who are guardians to their grandchildren. These grandparents continue to have a rate of poverty double that of grandparents who are not responsible for their grandchildren.
MAPC’s Regional Indicators Initiative seeks to measure the region’s progress toward the ambitious goals of MetroFuture, using data that can be monitored over time. This report is our first effort at updating the indicators to track progress since the initiative began. MAPC sought to revisit each indicator that was analyzed in the original State of Equity report, though data limitations prevented an entirely comprehensive update. An ideal indicator is provided by a data source that has a clear methodology and that is captured at regular time intervals. Some data sources have not been updated since the 2011 report, such as information about environmental hazards, access to open space, and senior transportation access. In other instances the methodology for collected data has changed, which provides challenges for monitoring trends over time. Examples include measures of economic disadvantage for public school students and standardized test scores. These types of data limitations are kept in mind when identifying appropriate indicators. MAPC is committed to following best practice in the field and utilizing reliable data sources, however unexpected changes to data sources may inevitably arise.
This effort also makes clear that lack of data about marginalized groups is an inequity in and of itself. In order to track progress over time, indicators must rely on data sources that are collected regularly and reliably, and many such data sources fail to provide detail on population characteristics critical to understanding disparities and designing solutions to address them. For example, many data sets do not include information on disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity, immigration status, and other aspects of personal identity that may subject an individual to discrimination and disparity. Therefore, making and measuring progress related to inequity necessitates expanding the scope and detail of data collection about populations of concern. This begins with advocating for federal, state, and local datasets that track information pertinent to these populations and topics. Ideally, such data collection will enable MAPC and its partners to evaluate how membership in multiple vulnerable communities influences an individual’s access to resources, their quality of life, and their health.
The findings presented here demonstrate that inequities remain a significant and growing problem in Metro Boston. Due to concerted efforts and leadership, some progress has been made in closing gaps in education, housing opportunity, incarceration rates, and some health indicators. Many of these improvements can be traced back to specific policy interventions or investments made with the explicit intention of reducing inequities. These successes demonstrate that by quantifying the problem, identifying policy solutions, and building broad coalitions, real change can happen – we can bend the trends.
Our findings also demonstrate that the barriers to equity continue to grow on many fronts, and much more work is needed to keep ahead of those challenges, much less eliminate them entirely. In particular, efforts in public health and education will pay dividends for decades to come by helping youth to grow up to become healthy, skilled, and engaged adults. The Commonwealth and its municipalities must continue momentum related to disparate policing and prison reform to reduce the number of people caught up in the criminal justice system. While income inequality is a growing problem nationally, there are many steps that Massachusetts and Metro Boston can take to address the problem locally, through wage regulations and more progressive tax structures. Finally, the persistent and problematic racial and economic segregation that contributes to many of the inequities observed here must be addressed through policies designed to revitalize low-income neighborhoods without displacing the residents already there, while also opening up high-opportunity suburbs to a broader range of people.
Despite the enormous challenges facing Metro Boston, there is cause for optimism. This region is fortunate to be home to an ecosystem of organizations and individuals committed to advancing equity. From leaders on Beacon Hill and municipal government to think tanks and universities, to social justice organization and community development corporations, thousands are engaged in this effort. MAPC hopes that this indicator report will provide our allies with data-driven insights into the progress made and the challenges that remain. We will use this report to help shape our policy priorities and encourage others to do the same. This work is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but together we can make a Greater, and more equitable, Boston Region.
In order to discuss equity, it is first important to understand the terms used to describe demographics and communities. Throughout the report, demographic trends will be analyzed by geography. This section highlights some of the key terms used throughout the report: