Massachusetts’ poverty rate is stuck at 11.9 percent, according to new data from the Census Bureau. That’s the highest level in at least 15 years. And while the number of families earning over $200,000 has increased, incomes in the middle haven’t bounced back from the recession.
These aren’t the kind of trends you expect to see during an economic recovery. Incomes should be rising and poverty declining, but that’s not happening in Massachusetts.
Is Massachusetts doing worse than the rest of the US?
Massachusetts remains a very rich state. Incomes may not be growing, but they’re still 25 percent higher than the United States as a whole.
On poverty, too, we look a lot better than the US average. About 1 of every 8 people in Massachusetts lives in poverty. Across the country, it’s 1 in 6.
That seems great. What’s the matter?
Economies are like bicycles; if they’re not moving forward, they’re liable to fall over. And the Massachusetts economy doesn’t seem to be moving forward.
Not only is the poverty rate stubbornly high, child poverty seems to be increasing, in spite of the fact that it has declined elsewhere in the country.
Incomes, too, are still 5 percent lower than in 2007 and even further below their peak in 2002.
What about inequality?
Massachusetts is a very unequal place. There are lots of different way to measure this, but however you slice the numbers in this latest Census release, you get the same result.
• The broadest measure of inequality is the Gini coefficient, which looks at gaps and divergences across the economy and boils them down to a single number. By this measure, there are only 4 states more unequal than Massachusetts: California, Connecticut, Louisiana, and New York.
• Since 2009, there’s been a substantial increase in the number of Massachusetts households earning less than $35,000. But that doesn’t mean everyone is downwardly mobile. At the top end, there’s actually been an increase in the number of households earning over $200,000.
• If the distribution of income hadn’t widened over the last 35 years, low- and middle-income families would be earning more.
Are there new numbers for Boston?
In addition to state-level data, the Census Bureau releases information about large cities, including “Metro Boston.” Among other things, it shows that Boston is even wealthier than the state as a whole.
It’s best not to put too much weight on these numbers, because the Census Bureau has a rather expansive vision for what counts as “metro Boston,” including Plymouth, Framingham, Gloucester, and a large swath of New Hampshire.
What else is in this Census release?
Want to know how many grandparents live with their grandchildren? Or the number of women over 35 who had babies? Or what percentage of people leave for work between 5:30 and 6 a.m.? Or who’s been in the same house since 1970? It’s all there. Go take a look.Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz