Housing costs aggravate area’s inequality, report says
Even as Greater Boston becomes more racially diverse, the high cost of housing has left the region increasingly racially and economically segregated over the past five years, a report released Tuesday by a regional planning group said.
Although Greater Boston has made progress closing some gaps, in the health and education of children of color vast economic disparities persist and in some cases have worsened, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council report.
Income disparity, for example, is increasing, especially along racial lines. The average income for the highest-earning fifth of households ($273,000,) is 18 times higher than average income for the lowest-income fifth ($15,000,) according to the report.
The report is an update to a 2011 report, produced to track how disparities have changed since then. At its release at Hibernian Hall in the Dudley Square neighborhood of Roxbury Tuesday, a panel of experts discussed how to shrink these gaps.
“While some are doing very well, there are still too many who are not,” said Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children.
Janey sees the report’s data play out not only in her work at the nonprofit, but in Roxbury, where she lives. People there don’t have access to the boom of economic activity that has lifted other parts of the city, she said.
Indeed, while the Massachusetts economy may be improving overall, the picture is not so rosy when you peel back layers of data. Unemployment rates are substantially higher for black and Latino workers and for those with disabilities, for example.
Since 1980, metro Boston’s population has grown from 8 percent to more than 25 percent people of color, the report said. But despite the fact that Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing nonwhite demographic in the region, there is now a greater degree of segregation between them and whites.
For example, the average white resident lives in a neighborhood where only 4 percent of his or her neighbors are black and only 6 percent Latino, the report said. The average black resident lives in a neighborhood where 43 percent of neighbors are white.
The report also explored areas of educational and health disparities — and discovered some encouraging news: Racial gaps in test scores, school discipline, graduation rates, and incarceration rates have decreased in the last five years.
The rate of low-weight births among black mothers has dropped in the past five years, for example. Standardized test scores improved across nearly all demographic categories between 2009 and 2015, and the gains were largest for blacks and Latinos, according to the report.
At the same time, people of color are still disproportionately affected by asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and other health problems.
Jeannette Huezo, executive director of United for a Fair Economy, said the report is more than numbers — it’s people’s lives.
She told the story of a man in Roslindale whose landlord increased the rent from one month to the next from $1,150 to $1,700. His family, two young children and his wife, couldn’t afford it so they moved in with a friend in Dorchester while they searched for an apartment.
“People can’t survive in Boston with the high rent,” Huezo said.
Income polarization has limited economic mobility, according to the report. Even as the total number of jobs and working households grew, the share of working households considered middle-income in Greater Boston declined from 33 to 26 percent of the total in the past five years.
Black and Latino households are disproportionately affected by how hard it is to move up the economic ladder.
The median income for black and Latino households is less than half the median income for white and Asian households, the report said. And while median incomes did not change significantly for white, Asian, and Latino households from five years ago, the median income declined for black households, from $45,800 to $43,600.
The report also explored other nuances of inequality, including the fact that minorities, even wealthy ones, have a much harder time getting approved for mortgages than white people. It found that an increasing share of older adults are continuing to work past age 65 and spend more than 30 percent of their income on a place to live.
Specialists and advocates who work on these issues in the region said that the key to shrinking these gaps further will be removing the barriers that perpetuate them. Housing is perhaps the most critical issue, they said.
“This housing cost burden issue is not only a huge social issue, it’s also a big problem for our economy,” said Draisen, executive director of the group that produced the report.
The report was issued the same day that US News & World Report released a first-ever ranking of states that named Massachusetts the “best” state in the nation, based on a variety of factors.
Governor Charlie Baker bragged about that ranking Tuesday, saying it reflects the region’s strong technology, health care, finance, and education sectors.
Asked about the report on inequality, a Baker spokesman said the administration is “committed to closing the opportunity gap” and praised many of the state’s accomplishments, such as increasing graduation rates in urban districts.
Baker also recently appointed a committee to examine issues facing black residents in the Commonwealth.
The contrast between the two reports was not lost on Democratic state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, whose districts include many of Boston’s low-income and minority neighborhoods.
“Our averages in Massachusetts give Bay Staters a lot to be proud of. But peel the onion back one layer, and you find chart-topping levels of inequality in Metro Boston,” she said in a statement.
Chang-Diaz suggested that people concerned about the growing wealth gap support a ballot question in 2018 that would impose an additional tax on income over $1 million.