Two Studies Find Growing Income Inequality In Region

By WGBH News

Dec. 14, 2011

occupy boston robin hood was right

Protesters with the Occupy Boston movement, like this man, have brought the issue of income inequality to the fore. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

BOSTON — Not one but two new reports from Massachusetts think tanks confirm that Occupy Boston's chief grievance — growing income inequality — is a growing problem in the region.

A very different 30 years
Despite the state's technology, medical and educational centers, incomes are now distributed less equitably in greater Boston than in 85 percent of the metro areas in the U.S., Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) executive director Marc Draisin said on “The Emily Rooney Show” on Dec. 13. And the gulf between the haves and have-nots is growing wider.

Marc Draisin talks about the MAPC study

“In 1979, a person in the top 20 percent earned about 6 or 7 times what a person in the bottom 20 percent earned. Today, they earn about 10 times as much,” Draisin said. “The bottom 80 percent, their income in inflation-adjusted dollars has remained about the same — in some cases even gone down. The top 20 percent, they’ve had a great 30 years! Their incomes have been going up and up.”
The poorest fifth of the region’s population currently earns a median income of roughly $20,000 while the richest fifth earn about $212,000 per year, according to the MAPC report.

The last, lost decade

The MassINC report, released on Dec. 14, focuses on the last 10 years, which it calls a "lost decade."

Ben Forman discusses the MassINC study

That report also found rising income inequality, coupled with growing underemployment. That, MassINC research director Ben Forman told WGBH News' Jordan Weinstein, is of particular concern.

"A lot of people with college degrees aren't in jobs that require college degrees," Forman said. Overall, about one in four workers in Massachusetts is un- or underemployed. That's in spite of the fact that academic achievement keeps rising, a paradox Forman called "stunning."

"We have the nation's most educated workforce," Forman said — for instance, the number of people in the state with master's degrees doubled in the last decade — but in that time, "only six states had slower job growth than we had."  

That's led to increasing pessimism in the state about the "American Dream," an issue WGBH News explored this November in its "Where We Live" series.

Some other key findings

- Massachusetts’ poorest families pay more than twice as much of their income on taxes as do the state’s richest families. (MAPC)
- Half the region’s renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. (MAPC)
- The number of employed residents under age 55 has dropped by 12 percent. (MassINC)
- Over one-third of the state's teens (age 16–19) and over one-quarter of young adults (age 20–24) were un- or underemployed in 2010. (MassINC)
Further reading

- MAPC report: State of Equity in Greater Boston
- MassINC report: Meeting the Challenges of the Bay State's Lost Decade

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