Report: MA Poverty Rates Still Elevated

We’ve been reading good news about the Massachusetts economy overall, but that news doesn’t take into account the elevated poverty rates. The Mass. Budget and Policy Center paints a more detailed picture.

“A strong economy is one that works for everyone, including young and experienced workers, children and families, lower-wage and high-wage earners. Over the past year, the Massachusetts economy has continued to grow and the median income has inched upward, but despite these gains the statewide poverty rate remains stubbornly high and wages are still lower than they were in 2007, before the Great Recession.

“Historically, within a year or two of the end of a recession, the national poverty rate has begun to decline. But that hasn’t held true for the two recessions we’ve had since 2000 — not for the U.S. and not for Massachusetts. Today, nearly four years after the end of the Great Recession, our statewide poverty rate is 11.9%, which is substantially higher than it was in 2007, but still lower than the national rate.”

Read more here.


Children’s Savings Accounts: The Next Level

William (WIllie) Elliott, an associate professor at the University of Kansas and founding director of the Assets and Education Initiative there, is currently a visiting scholar in the Regional & Community Outreach department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. He is collaborating with Anthony Poore and Anna Steiger to move our Children’s Savings Accounts work to the next level. (I blogged about our CSA initiative here.)

Here is commentary from Dr. Elliott’s University of Kansas blog.

“An aerial map of policy momentum around Children’s Savings Accounts would show a cluster of activity in the New England region2, with statewide accounts in Maine3, policy development in Rhode Island and Connecticut, legislation exploring CSAs in Vermont, interest in CSAs in New Hampshire and in the City of Boston, and strong leadership in the Boston Fed, including the creation of the first regional CSA consortium in the United States. A recent article4 by Anthony Poore of the Boston Fed and Colleen Quint of Maine outlined these developments, spurred in no small part by their efforts.

“We couldn’t be more excited to be part of these conversations. We hope to contribute to the CSA efforts in New England and also to be part of New England’s catalyzing force on the CSA field around the country. If you haven’t looked to New England for leadership on CSAs, you should. Maine’s Alfond Challenge recently transitioned from an opt-in account structure to automatic enrollment for every child in Maine, a policy escalation that provides a tremendously valuable opportunity to examine the effects of providing every child in a jurisdiction with a CSA, capitalized with an initial deposit.” More here.



A Lockable Metal Box

The December 12 David Brooks column at the NY Times described simple but proven solutions to complex problems. The first solution in the article is especially relevant for those of us who aim to help low-income people deal with emergencies and avoid a cycle of debt.

“Most of us don’t save enough,” writes Brooks.” When governments try to encourage saving, they usually enact big policies to increase the incentives.

“But, in Kenya, people were given a lockable metal box — a simple place to put their money. After one year, the people with metal boxes increased savings by so much that they had 66 percent more money available to pay for health emergencies. It would have taken a giant tax reform to produce a shift in behavior that large.” Recognizing that life tends to be more complicated than that, I still wonder if it could work here, at least for some people.

More here.


NH Businesses That Fuel the Economy

At the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development, Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeffrey Rose praised some local businesses that are benefiting the state economy.

Writes the newspaper The Union Leader, “Companies honored were: Codet Corp.; Comcast Corp.; Granite State Hospitality; HALO Maritime Defense Systems; Lindt & Sprüngli, and the University of New Hampshire-UNH Dining Services.

“Codet, a third-generation family business headquartered in Coaticook, Que., expanded to Colebrook 22 years ago and earlier this year, announced it would build an 11,500-square-foot addition and hire 25 new employees. The company makes outdoor and protective apparel with the Big Bill brand. …

“Comcast was recognized for its $13 million expansion earlier this year in Hudson, building a new call center with room for 600 employees; already, 200 people have been hired to provide support to 1.6 million customers in New Hampshire, Maine, and eastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the Islands.” More here.


Thinking about Poverty and Children

Here are a couple interesting sites that the Providence-based, low-income microlender Capital Good Fund recently put on Facebook. offers a visceral experience of trying to live on a very low-income. UK-based is an outrageous but instructive lesson in debt, designed as if children were using payday loans and similar alternative financial services for their “pocket money.” Somehow, when payday lending is applied to children, the problem becomes more clear.

Playspent is a game developed in Durham, North Carolina. You are told you are down to your last thousand dollars. To “get a job,” you can pick one of three choices. I picked food server. I was told what my earnings would start out as, then what money would be taken out for health insurance, then how much I would have to pay for an apartment.

Then I learned that the apartment is “too small for my stuff,” and I am given three options. Do I want to store the overflow for $45, ask a friend to store it, or have a yard sale? At each step in the game, I have choices, but my choices are limited by my lot in life.

Try it. It makes you think.




Young Adults in 1980 vs. Today

Chris Shannon, who works with youth in the Boston Fed’s Regional & Community Outreach department, just send me a link from the census, a comparison of young adults now and in 1980:

“Young adults today, often called the millennial generation, are more likely to be foreign born and speak a language other than English at home, compared with young adults in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest statistics from the American Community Survey.

“ ‘Many of the differences between generations examined within these latest data reflect long-term demographic and societal changes,’ said Jonathan Vespa, a Census Bureau demographer. …

“Five years of data collected between 2009 and 2013 provide statistics on more than 40 economic, housing and social topics, such as commuting, educational attainment and home value. As the nation’s largest ongoing household survey, the American Community Survey produces statistics at all levels of geography, down to the block group level. Today, for the first time users can access block group level statistics on the tool rather than via a separate FTP [file transfer protocol] site.

“Highlighting some of the topics available from the American Community Survey, the Census Bureau released ‘Young Adults: Then and Now,’ a new edition of the interactive mapping tool Census Explorer. The tool illustrates characteristics of the young adult population (age 18-34) across the decades using data from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 Censuses and the 2009-2013 American Community Survey. The American Community Survey, which is a part of the decennial census, replaced the ‘long form’ questionnaire soon after the 2000 Census.” More here.


Vermont Gets Extra Education Funding

A new story in the Burlington [VT] Free Press reports that Vermont is getting some much-needed federal assistance on education.

“Vermont has been awarded $7.3 million in what is expected to be a $33.4 million, four-year federal grant for pre-kindergarten programs at public schools and Head Start agencies throughout the state.

“Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) issued announcements about the grant this morning. …

” ‘We know that investments in our youngest children pay huge dividends in their ability to achieve in school and succeed in life. We will use this $33 million directly to expand access to quality early education for Vermont children most in need,’ the governor said. …

“Sanders, a member of the Senate education committee, worked with the U.S. Department of Education, the Vermont Congressional delegation and the Shumlin administration to secure the funding to operate the Pre-K program.”

More here.