Report charts persistent inequities in Greater Boston

Sandra Larson | 3/9/2017, 6 a.m.
While the Greater Boston area has grown more diverse over the past five years, the region remains racially and economically ...
(l-r) Marc Draisen, executive director of MAPC and panel discussion moderator; Jeanette Huezo, executive director of United for a Fair Economy; Kim Janey, senior project director for Massachusetts Advocates for Children; and Sanouri Ursprung, acting director of the Office of Statistics and Evaluation at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Photo by Sandra Larson

While the Greater Boston area has grown more diverse over the past five years, the region remains racially and economically segregated, a new report shows, with the average income 18 times higher for the highest-earning fifth of households than for the lowest fifth, and widening income and wealth gaps disproportionately affecting blacks and Latinos.

On the web

State of Equity report: www.regionalindicators.org/topic_areas/7

MAPC: www.mapc.org

The “State of Equity 2017 Update,” released Feb. 28 by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, shows that black and Latino household median incomes in the region are less than half those of white and Asian households. What’s more, even as the Massachusetts economy has improved overall, unemployment rates are significantly higher for blacks and Latinos as well as for people with disabilities. Home ownership remains low for blacks and Latinos and their home mortgage applications are denied at a higher rate even when they have high incomes.

The new report is a five-year update to a 2011 report examining inequity — lack of full and equal access to opportunity — in such indicators as economy, education, housing, public health and transportation. A regional planning agency, MAPC covers 101 cities and towns in the wider Boston metropolitan area.

The report does reveal some heartening trends. For instance, MCAS scores and graduation rates have increased across all race/ethnicity groups. In the public health category, childhood lead poisoning has decreased and the rate of low birth weight babies has dropped for women in nearly every race and education category. In the justice category, the number of inmates in the Department of Corrections has dropped by 12 percent and race disparities in incarceration rates have declined slowly.

Even with these positive changes, however, black and Latino students still show lower education outcomes than whites and Asians, black women still have the highest rate of low birth weight babies of all race/ethnicity groups, and blacks and Latinos continue to be severely overrepresented in the prison system.

MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen said the agency will now formulate over the next few months an updated policy agenda based on the Equity Update findings. He encouraged attendees to keep in touch with MAPC and offer ideas and suggestions.

Kim Janey, senior project director for Massachusetts Advocates for Children, spoke on a panel moderated by Draisen at the report release event in Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall. She said any discussion of solutions must take into account historical discrimination and structural racism.

“That’s something we cannot ignore if we’re serious about addressing these issues,” Janey said. “Even if we have laws on the books, and wonderful policies on the books, how are we prioritizing? Are we using an equitable lens when we implement them?”

With the Trump administration ready to undo many pro-equity policies put in place over the past 50 years, there is heightened urgency for other levels of government to address disparities.

“If indeed the federal government withdraws from its commitment to advancing equity,” the report states, “the responsibility may fall to local and state leaders to demonstrate that fairness and inclusion are the surest pathways to a bright future and a strong economy.”