As the dual trends of increasing wealth stratification and shrinking economic mobility prevail across the country, Boston is not immune—despite the region’s recent flourishing economy. This is the analysis of a major report, Boston’s Booming… But for Whom?, released on October 10th by Boston Indicators, the research arm of the Boston Foundation.
The report’s findings in brief: Economic mobility is down. Income inequality is up. Boston’s middle class is hollowing out. Poverty is persistent. And wealth disparities are growing. It also reflects a long-term decline in the percentage of young adults that earn more than their parents did at the same age. In Massachusetts, just 55 percent of those born in 1980 were found to be earning more than their parents did at age 30—down from 91 percent for those born in 1940.
Described by co-author Luc Schuster as a foundation-laying piece for an ongoing dialogue, the report offers stark numbers that both confirm hunches about economic disparities and offer startling details to the narrative. For example, data showing a greater percentage of white than black homeowners in Boston may not surprise anyone, but data showing that racial difference persists even among people at the same low-income levels is a trenchant reminder of a legacy of policies that have skewed wealth development over the generations.
Schuster presented findings and then introduced John Friedman, Founding Co-Director of Opportunity Insights, a think tank and research group that uses big data to study the evolution of the American Dream, and makes that data available for local researchers to dive in deep. Friedman shared another unsurprising/surprising finding: Growing up in a two-parent household improves kids’ chances for upward economic mobility. More important than whether their own household has two parents, however, is the density of two-parent households in their neighborhood (greater density is better).
In addition to the findings, the report provides a list of proposed action items, many of which are ongoing, that are most likely to improve economic mobility, increase opportunity or relieve cost burdens on all Greater Boston residents.
The action items were taken up by a panel that featured Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons, Family Independence Initiative CEO Jesus Gerena and Massachusetts Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Janelle Chan. They all agreed that while national and statewide policies and initiatives are needed to turn the slow ship of economic equity, targeted plans at the city, census tract and neighborhood-block level can be the quicker-moving lifeboats that will bring more people into the thriving boom of Boston.
Schuster pointed out the advantages Boston has. “We’re operating from a position of strength. But we need to do a better job of making sure the benefits of that economic strength are felt by everyone.”