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Incomes grew in Greater Boston last year, but not as fast as inflation

Workers at a gene manufacturing facility in Bedford. Growth in household incomes in Greater Boston lagged inflation last year amid cutbacks in the region's tech and life science industries.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Even as Greater Boston bucked troubling national trends on poverty last year, the typical household income grew at just half the rate of inflation, and far slower than most other major metro areas, according to census data released Thursday.

The new figures, based on an annual survey, peg the median household income here at $104,299 in 2022, up from $100,750 the year prior. That still ranks Greater Boston among the most affluent places in the country. But the annual increase of 3.5 percent was outpaced by all but two of the nation’s 40 largest cities, including regions mostly in the Sun Belt and Florida that saw double-digit income gains. Statewide, the median income increased by 5.4 percent to $94,488.


Economist and Boston College professor Brian Bethune said Massachusetts likely saw slow growth in income last year because much of the state’s labor force works in higher-paying industries.

Early in the pandemic, the economies of less-affluent states were battered by the loss of service workers, including servers, hotel employees, and baggage handlers. But an uptick in spending on travel and leisure later bolstered demand for those jobs, and a tight labor market increased what employers had to pay to fill them. Massachusetts, by contrast, saw less of a dip in lower-wage work — and now, less of an increase in income at large.

“States that are more concentrated in technology and finance — Massachusetts — did not see as much of a cycle,” Bethune said.

Yet costs here climbed, meaning that modest wage growth may have felt to many people like falling behind. A key measure of inflation rose by 7 percent in 2022, and the price of housing and child care are still on the rise. Meantime, a number of public assistance programs that provided additional aid during the pandemic, including rent relief, the child tax credit, and expanded food aid, have wound down.


The end of those relief programs has been blamed for a surge in poverty last year, one which Thursday’s data suggests Massachusetts has avoided.

On Tuesday, census figures showed a sharp rise in the number of people experiencing poverty nationwide, threatening to reverse two decades of progress. The Supplemental Poverty Measure — a broader metric that accounts for the impact of government assistance and geographical differences in the cost of living — rose to 12.4 percent from 7.8 percent, the largest one-year jump on record. The child poverty rate more than doubled.

But here, poverty levels stayed basically level in 2022. The percentage of impoverished families in the Greater Boston metropolitan area fell to 6 percent from 6.4 percent the year prior, according to the census’s American Community Survey. Only 9.4 percent of people under 18 were in poverty last year, compared to 10.7 percent in 2021.

What’s more, the share of households earning less than $35,000 went down by a single point from 18 percent, according to a Globe analysis of the data.

It is likely that the decrease in poverty is linked to Massachusetts’s continued support of pandemic-era aid programs, advocates said. In the spring, Governor Maura Healey allocated more than $350 million to housing and food assistance programs and passed a temporary extension of extra food stamps afforded to families from 2020. The 2024 state budget put aside $475 million to so-called C3 grants for child care providers, and Healey in August made Massachusetts the eighth state to cover lunch costs for all children in public schools.


Despite the recent successes, Kim Janey, CEO of the nonprofit EMPath and the former mayor of Boston, said there’s much work to still be done.

“As a state and city that leads the way on so many issues, we must do better,” Janey said. “Wages are failing to keep up with inflation, and local families’ budgets are already strained by some of the highest costs of housing and child care in the nation. Not only do we need to see a robust increase in wages, we also need deeper investments in families who are struggling the most.”

Michael Klein, a Tufts University economics professor and editor of Econofact, said the technology sector may be partly to blame for soft wage growth. Local companies, including Wayfair, Hubspot, and Whoop, slashed thousands of jobs recently, impacting the pocketbooks of middle- to upper-middle-income workers and the health of the local landscape.

“Massachusetts is very tech-heavy,” Klein added. “Whatever happened this year and last, the fact of the matter is that the tech sector is taking a hit.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_. Daigo Fujiwara can be reached at Follow him @DaigoFuji.