Massachusetts residents see American Dream as harder to afford
BOSTON — May 28, 2003 — Seventy-four percent of residents see the high cost of living in Massachusetts as a problem in their lives, according to a new report released today by MassINC, the nonpartisan public policy think tank, and underwritten by the Citizens Bank Foundation.
Most Bay State residents still rate the quality of life here as good or excellent (71%). They give high marks to their local schools, their jobs, and the balance they’re striking between work and family. Yet, they are deeply concerned about their ability to afford the advantages that make Massachusetts a desirable place to live. They view the state’s high cost of living as a serious burden; they are apprehensive about aspects of their children’s futures; and many believe other states offer greater opportunity.
“While people clearly believe that Massachusetts is a good place to work and raise a family, this survey reveals warning signs that the American Dream may be getting tougher to achieve in the Bay State,” said John Schneider, Acting Director of MassINC. “As an organization committed to growing the state’s middle class, we see this new research as critical to understanding and solving the problems of average families in Massachusetts.”
The Pursuit of Happiness: A Survey on the Quality of Life in Massachusetts highlights data from a 1,001-person statewide poll conducted for MassINC by Princeton Survey Research Associates (margin of error: + or – 3%). Respondents were asked more than 60 questions related to their own and the state’s quality of life, their views on key policy issues, and problems impacting their families.
“While the high cost of doing business was Massachusetts’ competitive disadvantage a decade ago, the high cost of living is our paramount challenge today,” said Lawrence K. Fish, Chairman, President and CEO of Citizens Financial Group, Inc. “The results of this survey underscore the need for the public and private sectors to once again work together to tackle this critical concern.”
The state’s high cost of living is sapping family resources, according to the survey. Seventy-four percent see it as at least somewhat of a problem in their lives. One-quarter say they would move from Massachusetts if given the chance, and their number one reason is to find a place with a lower cost of living or lower taxes. Despite a growing economy and increases in state spending, only 15 percent believe the state’s overall quality of life has improved over the past five years.
According to Massachusetts residents, the top five areas in need of major improvement are: Housing affordability (54%), roads and traffic (50%), the way the health care system is working (49%), higher education affordability (48%), and the amount the average family has to pay in taxes (47%).
The data also suggest that financial worries may be eroding the confidence many parents have in their ability to send their children to college and later obtain good jobs. Eighty-six percent of parents believe the state needs to make higher education more affordable, and 80% are at least somewhat concerned that they won’t be able to send their children to the college of their choice. Looking farther down the road, 73% express concern that their children won’t have good job opportunities.
Families are grappling with many of the same concerns across the state’s regions – finances, housing, higher education, the tax burden – but there remain differences in perceptions and worries depending on where you live. Greater Boston is most concerned with housing costs (60% think it needs major improvement); Southeastern Massachusetts is focused on higher education affordability (53%); Central Massachusetts on the tax burden (48%); and Western Massachusetts on the availability of good paying jobs (47%).
The report also focuses attention on those citizens who have lived in the Bay State for a decade or less. “Newcomers” emerge as a group to watch because of their economic and social value to the state. They are younger, more diverse, and better educated than long-time residents. While they register positive views of Massachusetts, three times as many Newcomers as established Bay Staters cite the high cost of living as the biggest problem for their families. One-third would move out of the state if given the opportunity.
“The Newcomers are an excellent example of why taking a look at our quality of life is important as we consider ways to grow the economy,” said Schneider. “In a state with one of the nation’s lowest labor force growth rates, our ability to maintain an excellent quality of life that is also in reach of most family pocketbooks is critical to competing with other states for jobs and workers.”
Key findings from The Pursuit of Happiness: A Survey on the Quality of Life in Massachusetts include:
- Seventy-one percent of Massachusetts citizens rate the quality of life in the Commonwealth as good to excellent (29% excellent/very good, 42% good), while only about three in 10 (28%) rate it fair to poor.
- Residents are specific with their criticisms. Of the 14 areas they were asked to rate in the survey, majorities saw the need for improvement in 12 of them. The top five areas rated in need of major improvement are:
- Availability of affordable housing 54%
- Roads and traffic situation 50%
- The way the health care system is working 49%
- Affordability of college education 48%
- Amount of taxes an average family has to pay 47%
- Only 15% believe the state’s quality of life has improved over the last five years. Forty-four percent believe it has stayed the same, and 38% believe it has gotten worse.
- One-quarter of respondents would move out of Massachusetts if given the opportunity.
- A decade into education reform, more than half (57%) of all parents are very satisfied with their youngest child’s school, and only 5% are not satisfied at all.
- The belief that average families need tax relief is most commonly held by people of color (57%), working mothers (57%), and those who identify themselves as working class or poor (54%).
- More than 40% of all respondents rank their personal financial situation as either fair or poor.
- Parents are particularly concerned for their children’s futures. Eighty-six percent say that the state needs to improve the affordability of a college education. Seventy-three percent worry that their children won’t have access to good jobs.
- Seventy-seven percent of citizens report feeling very safe in their homes at night, and 53% feel very safe when walking in their neighborhoods at night.
- Married residents largely find they are able to balance work and family. Only six percent report being unsatisfied with the time they spend with their children and their spouses. Women are significantly more satisfied than men with the time they spend with their children (60% vs. 39%).
- amilies are grappling with many of the same concerns across the state’s regions – finances, higher education affordability, the tax burden, and the way the health care system is working – but there remain stark differences in perceptions and worries depending on where they live. Top regional issues needing major improvement:
- Greater Boston Housing affordability 60%
- Southeastern Massachusetts Higher education affordability 53%
- Central Massachusetts Amount paid in taxes 48%
- Western Massachusetts Availability of good paying jobs 47%
- Newcomers – a diverse, young, educated population who moved to Massachusetts in the last decade – emerge as a group to watch because of their economic and social value to the state. Their specific concerns about the state’s cost of living endanger their longevity as residents. One-third state they would leave if given the opportunity.
MassINC is a nonpartisan, evidence-based public policy think tank. Our mission is to develop a public agenda for Massachusetts that promotes the growth and vitality of the middle class. Our governing philosophy is rooted in the ideals embodied in the American Dream: equality of opportunity, personal responsibility and a strong commonwealth.About Citizens Bank of Massachusetts
Citizens Bank of Massachusetts is a $22.8 billion bank with 240 branch offices stretching from Greater Boston to Cape Cod and the Berkshires. It is headquartered at 28 State Street in Boston and has regional administration centers in Quincy, Hyannis, Woburn and Wakefield. It has more than 3,600 employees. Citizens Bank of Massachusetts is a subsidiary of Citizens Financial Group, Inc., a $64 billion commercial bank holding company headquartered in Providence, R.I. Citizens web site is at www.citizensbank.com.