New database reflects life in Essex County

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, listens to opening remarks during the Groundwork Lawrence and Comcast Cares Day at Campagnone Common, on Saturday May 3, 2014. Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe/file
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera attended a Groundwork Lawrence event at Campagnone Common in 2014.

In the years between 2010 and 2014, an average of 16 percent of children in Essex County lived in poverty.

Between 2007 and 2015, homelessness more than doubled from 12 to 26 per 10,000 residents.

The median household income was $68,000 in 2014, down from $73,400 in 2000.


While the American dream — owning a home — thrives in towns such as Boxford and Topsfield, where over 90 percent of homes are owner-occupied, it escapes most living in cities such as Lawrence (28 percent), Lynn (46 percent), and Salem (49 percent).

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These numbers reflect life for about 776,000 residents in 34 cities and towns stretching from Lynn to Amesbury that make up Essex County, according to an online database launched by a local nonprofit that promotes philanthropy in the region.

Impact Essex County was launched by the Essex County Community Foundation, which has granted more than $30 million to nonprofits, schools, and students since it was founded in 1998.

With trends collected by the Center for Governmental Research, the foundation can “not just think this is happening, but know what’s happening, and have measurable data,” said Julie Bishop, vice president for philanthropy.

Launching the site was the first step in a three-phase plan that includes identifying county needs and creating a $10 million endowment campaign to address the highest priority issues.


“Our board is committed to generating $10 million of unrestricted endowment that would generate about $500,000 a year to be focused on those target areas,” said Dave Edwards, the foundation’s chief executive. “Rather than giving out $2,000 to $3,000 to the 1,200 nonprofits we have in the communities, we really want to focus on the critical community issues, to create change over time.”

The foundation put together a 25-member advisory council that worked for six months to identify broad categories and then pulled in more experts from each field to gain a better understanding of the information needed. After identifying those areas, the researchers mined census and other data and gathered approximately 100 key indicators.

“When we can, the data is displayed by the individual towns and cities,” Bishop said. “It’s a real wealth of information. We felt we personally needed it to know what the county’s issues are . . . and can let others know what the issues are so we can work together and make a difference.”

Jon Payson, chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees, said the effort can help expand on local initiatives, create countywide partnerships, and generate financial support.

“There’s a ton of great things going on in the county, happening town by town and neighborhood by neighborhood,” he said. “One key goal is to get the conversation started at the county level, about some of our needs. The second goal is to bring some funding to the table.


“As a community foundation, we should be bringing funding to the table for a couple of these good ideas because it’s an incentive to get people to collaborate, and frankly, if there isn’t some multiyear funding there, most of these projects – even the good ones — will fail, simply because of lack of interest and lack of resources. Money helps to focus the mind.”

Poverty indicators showed up frequently in Lawrence and Lynn, two of Essex County’s largest cities. In Lawrence, where the population was about 80,000, the poverty rate was 29 percent for the period of 2010 to 2014, and in Lynn, with 92,000 people, 21 percent. That compares to 11 percent countywide, close to the 11.5 percent figure statewide.

“You can go to different sites and not know if what you’re looking at is the most up-to-date results,” said Kathleen McDonald, director of development for Lynn Economic Opportunity, which provides emergency assistance and child development programs. “If different indicators are measured every four years, or 10 years or two years, you don’t know if what you have is the most recent. This way we have a trustworthy resource that has everything in one place.”

In 2014, 43 percent of students in Essex County were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch, compared to the statewide rate of 38 percent. In Lawrence, that figure rose to 92 percent.

“No one ever does this alone,” said Heather McMann, executive director of Groundwork Lawrence, which promotes a healthy lifestyle through community programming and events. “You need to be able to look at stats, and be able to see where did we start, where are we going, having it easily accessible, and having everyone use the same dashboard. It’s important.”

David Rattigan can be reached at