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Region’s inequities widen, study finds

Region’s inequities widen, study finds

Wealthiest fifth earn 10 times more than poorest fifth

By Peter Schworm


Occupy Boston may be gone from Dewey Square. But the protesters’ point was well founded, a new report has found.

The gap between the haves and have-nots in the Boston area has widened over the past three decades, deepening social disparities and cementing high levels of segregation.

In 2006, the richest 20 percent of the population earned, on average, more than 10 times the income of the poorest fifth, according to a far-reaching report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a regional planning agency. In 1979, by comparison, the top earners made about seven times as much as the lowest fifth.

“Wealth in the region has become increasingly concentrated, creating a smaller group of wealthy families than ever before, while more Greater Bostonians than ever struggle to make ends meet,’’ the report stated.

While incomes for the bottom 40 percent barely budged over the past three decades, those at the top rose sharply, from a median of $143,000 to $211,000. By contrast, the poor lost ground, as incomes dipped from $21,600 to $20,300, as measured in constant dollars.

The report, called “State of Equity in Metro Boston,’’ studied 101 communities inside Interstate 495 and found that income inequality in the region was higher than in 85 percent of metro areas across the country.

“This gap is large compared to other metro areas, and it’s increasing,’’ the report stated, calling the region of 3.2 million people “among the least equal metropolitan areas in the country.’’

The study, which focused on recent data and looked at long-term shifts, showed a region that is becoming older and more racially diverse, and where income inequities lead to a host of social ills.

The report is designed to establish a baseline for equity measures to track changes over time. The council plans to issue a second report next year featuring policy recommendations.

“Without deliberate action to reverse the disparities documented in this report, demographic trends will only worsen the toxic effects of inequity in our region,’’ said Mariana Arcaya, who coauthored the report.

The report, which was funded by the Barr Foundation, will be discussed at a Harvard Law School forum today.

Income differences also occurred along racial lines, with the 2006-2008 median income of white households, $76,000, twice that of Latino households, which earned $37,000. African-American households earned $43,000 over the span.

Nearly one in four Latinos and one in five blacks in the region live in poverty, compared with 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

As a result, nearly three-quarters of black and Latino students attend high-poverty schools, where more than half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. By comparison, just over 10 percent of white students do.

“You see the issue of residential segregation playing out in the quality of the schools,’’ said Marc Draisen, executive director of the council.

This has an enormous impact, according to the study. Among third-graders, there is a gap of 40 percentage points in reading proficiency rates between white and black students. In high school, dropout rates for black and Latino students are at least three times as high as those for white and Asian students, the study found. Only 65 percent of those without a high school degree are active in the labor force.

The high cost of living also plays a major role. Half of renters in the region spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and a substantial portion spend more than half.

The region’s demographics are changing steadily. Forty percent of the region’s children under 5 are members of racial minorities.

Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globepete.