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In 2015, Mass. wages rose slower than in rest of US

While the rest of the country saw blockbuster gains in their paychecks in 2015, household incomes in Massachusetts rose at a much slower pace, according to data to be released by the Census Bureau Thursday.

Usually, Massachusetts outpaces the nation, with better school test scores and lower unemployment rates. But median incomes increased by a paltry 2 percent — nearly half the national rate — from $69,223 in 2014 to $70,628 last year.

Nationwide, median household income grew by 3.8 percent, to $55,775, in 2015.

Massachusetts also made less progress in reducing poverty and saw the wages of full-time, year-round male workers stagnate, compared to those in the rest of the United States.

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The state data released Thursday are based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and the methodology and results vary somewhat from the agency’s national household income data, outlined earlier this week.

Massachusetts experienced a far less severe economic downtown during the last recession than much of the country, so family incomes may not have rebounded as much in the recovery, said Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University economics professor.

The state still boasts among the top median incomes in the country. And families in the Boston area are bringing home some of the fattest paychecks — the median is $78,800. Only metropolitan San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have higher median incomes.

But there may be other reasons for the slower income growth of middle-class Massachusetts families, including the shrinking earning power of men.

Paychecks for women in full-time, year-round jobs increased slightly, up 1.6 percent, versus 2.4 nationally. Men in the state, however, had income gains that were barely a fraction of those of male workers across the country.

And this is no fluke. It’s been going on for a few years. With one exception, Massachusetts women have seen bigger pay increases than their male counterparts every year since the Great Recession.

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Between 2007 and 2015, earnings of men in Massachusetts budged by less than 1 percent, while women’s incomes grew by nearly 7 percent. However, even with these gains there is still a $10,000 average wage gap.

The wage stagnation for men may be part of a not fully understood shift in the broader economy, with male-dominated sectors like manufacturing, weakening while health care jobs, such as nursing, are more in demand.

And as the economy shifts to one that’s more reliant on those with college educations, that may benefit women more. Women accounted for 55 percent of undergraduates enrolled at four-year colleges in the United States in fall 2014, the most recent data available.

The gender differences may also reflect improvements in the economy for professional women, said Randy Albelda, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston who has studied gender and wages.

Job gains in education and health care in Massachusetts have been strong, and those are fields that have traditionally attracted women, Albelda said.

“I don’t think it’s all of sudden we have more gender equality,” she said. “It could be that it’s getting better. My guess is it has to do with who is in full-time jobs. It’s professional women who have had a pretty decent hold in Massachusetts.”

The new state-by-state look at incomes and poverty also reveals some of the weaknesses in the Massachusetts economy.

While more than two million Americans climbed out of poverty last year, in Massachusetts there was little change. At 11.5 percent, Massachusetts’ poverty rate remains stubbornly high, a full percentage point higher than at any time from 2000 to 2009.

And particularly in the Boston area, relief for these families is limited, said Elisabeth Babcock, the president of EmPath, a Boston-based organization that helps low-income families move out of poverty.

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Affordable housing in Greater Boston is in short supply, and a minimum-wage worker would have to work 97 hours a week to afford the rent on a one-bedroom apartment, she said.

Hispanic households in Massachusetts are also struggling. The median Hispanic household earns 50 cents for every dollar taken home by a comparable non-Hispanic white household. That’s the lowest level in the nation.

“The reality of getting ahead is not being experienced by everybody,” Babcock said.


Deirdre Fernandes
can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.