Check out the headlines. Charlie Baker is the most popular governor in America and Massachusetts is the Promised Land.
Nirvana? Not for everyone.
Not for people stuck on the wrong side of the income gap, who are desperate for affordable housing and not in the market for a $4 million condo unit in a revitalized Downtown Crossing. Not for the homeless, whose numbers have nearly doubled over the past nine years, according to a recent study commissioned by the Boston Foundation. Not for kids stuck in schools hindered by an outdated school funding formula. And not for those rail commuters who just experienced three miserable days of delays attributed to defective new locomotives.
Massachusetts was recently ranked number one in the country on the strength of its education and health care systems and overall economy. The survey, by US News & World Report, got a lot of buzz and was considered a boon for Baker. The Republican governor just got another boost, from an online poll by Morning Consult of 2,500 Massachusetts voters, who gave him a 75 percent approval rating.
Yet take off the rose-colored glasses and some shadows fall on the landscape.
Despite Baker’s undisputed commitment to fighting opioid abuse, this is also the state with the highest rate of opioid-related visits to hospital emergency departments, according to the latest federal report. While there are many expensive private higher-ed options, trustees of the state university system were just told the budget process is so broken at the Boston campus that serious cuts must be made to address a $30 million deficit.
In theory, Massachusetts is a haven of liberalism. But diversity is elusive everywhere, including at public institutions. After Keith Motley announced his resignation as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, the head of the local NAACP said Motley’s exit — connected to an expansion plan approved by the board of trustees — “is starting to feel like a systemic attack against black leadership.”
The gap between rich and poor in Massachusetts, one of the widest in the nation, has led to social segregation and few mixed-income neighborhoods, according to a study released last fall.
The Massachusetts unemployment rate of 3.4 percent is lower than the national rate. But the best paying jobs require an advanced degree, which contributes to the state’s income inequality, according to another study.
It’s better to be poor here than elsewhere — which is easy for the nonpoor to say. Low-wage earners do earn more in Massachusetts than anywhere in the country. Massachusetts housing is expensive until you look at New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Miami. There’s an education achievement gap in Massachusetts, but black students do better here than nearly anywhere else.
To some degree, it is a case of looking at a glass as half empty or half full. Look past the US News & World Report headline about Massachusetts as the number one state in the nation, and that same survey ranked Massachusetts as 45th in the quality of its transportation network, 47th for affordability, and 48th for government budget balancing.
Those areas fall under Baker’s purview. Yet 75 percent of those people surveyed for the Morning Consult poll were happy with Baker’s performance. He still comes across as Governor Fixer-Upper, ready to tackle the tough projects in Massachusetts while negotiating the strange politics of life under President Trump.
We can be disturbed and distracted by the antics in the White House and grateful for a sane and mature governor back home. But let’s not get carried away by headlines that tell us what we want to hear and obscure what we also know.
It’s easy to get complacent and harder to make sure Massachusetts lives up to the hype.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.