Massachusetts is #1, but not for everyone
We’re the best. Number one. The greatest of all time. That’s what the US News and World Report told Bay State residents last week, naming Massachusetts the best state in the union in their first annual Best States rankings. The news prompted Gronk-level football spiking up on Beacon Hill this week, as well as scattered hilarity on social media.
But before we hoist another in an increasingly tiresome string of championship banners, there are a few things to discuss. Not surprisingly, Massachusetts was ranked #1 in education and #2 on health care, and that helped push us to the top spot overall. But Massachusetts is terrible in a lot of other areas. Like, Colts fake punt, bottom-of-the-barrel dreadful. The things we are bad at are related to one another, and are hitting some of us worse than others. They add up to a picture of a state where lots of people are doing very well at a lot of things, but many are being left far behind with little chance of catching up.
Particularly on issues of equality and racial justice, we are near the bottom, placing 45th on income inequality and 40th in terms of racial income gaps. The data on Boston helps illustrate why. In the most unequal city in America, the median white family has amassed $265,500 in assets, compared to $700 for black households, and less than $15,000 for Hispanic households. Gleaming office and condo buildings rise downtown, but prosperity is not evenly shared. The average income for the top fifth of households is 18 times higher than of the lowest fifth, and getting worse.
The story is no better in the state’s other urban areas. In the state’s Gateway Cities, home to a large share of the state’s minority population outside of Boston, the figures are sobering. Together, they are home to 30 percent of the state’s poor, 45 percent of welfare cases, half of incarcerated youth, and 71 percent of students attending “chronically underperforming” schools. Put the Boston and Gateway Cities data together, and the yawning gulf of racial inequality comes into focus. The rankings bear it out. US News ranked Massachusetts 31st in educational equality by race, 19th in employment equality, and 46th on racial equality in juvenile jailings. We failed to crack the top 15 on any items related to racial equality.
Massachusetts is also behind when it comes to basic quality of life and cost of living issues that touch all residents. Our transportation network is rated 45th out of 50, pulled down by our 47th-place rankings for both commute time and road quality. There are racial disparities here, as well. Black bus riders in the Boston area spend, on average, 64 more hours a year commuting than white bus riders, and 31 hours more on the subway. We are ranked ranked 47th for affordability — 45th for cost of living and 44th for housing costs. Given the racial inequalities in wealth and income, these cost issues are also closely tied to race issues.
Voters know where the overall problems are. Our January poll for WBUR found that most Massachusetts voters were satisfied with the state of education and the economy, but far fewer were happy with the transportation system or the cost of housing.So while lawmakers are taking their victory laps, they should be aware that voters think there’s more work to be done. And for many Massachusetts residents who aren’t feeling the boom, #1 is just a number on a website.