Trends & Challenges
Greater Boston's increasing racial/ethnic diversity is a powerful asset in an increasingly complex world and competitive global marketplace.
Boston, Greater Boston and Massachusetts gained population in recent decades due only to an influx of foreign-born immigrants, most of whom are of color, and Boston is now a “majority minority”
city in which three-quarters of its children are of color compared to 53% of the total population. Newcomers have revitalized many towns and neighborhoods, while immigrant entrepreneurs account for a vastly disproportionate number of new businesses and jobs statewide. The challenge going forward is for people of color and newcomers to achieve full civic and electoral participation, and for their children to be educated to the same high global standards as those of most white students in the Commonwealth.
Leadership diversity in the Commonwealth, region and City progressed markedly over the last decade, but major hurdles to attaining full demographic representation persist: From Massachusetts’ first-in-the nation re-election of an African American governor and first election of women as the State's Attorney General and State Treasurer to the Boston City Council’s historic 2011 election in which its first woman of color and second Latino were top at-large vote getters to the first women presidents of Harvard and MIT, Greater Boston's leadership diversity is increasing. However, the full demographic representation of women and all racial/ethnic groups in public, nonprofit and private sector leadership spheres is lagging, reinforcing narrow perspectives and experiences at a time of great global change.. For example:
- Women: While women account for 51.6% of Massachusetts population, they represent only about 12% of the members of the boards of Greater Boston’s 100 largest companies, of which just 1.3% are women of color -- with both figures essentially unchanged since 2006. Similarly, just 24.5% of Massachusetts 200 elected legislators are women.
- Latinos: Latinos accounted for 9.6% of the Massachusetts population as of the 2010 Census but just 2% of state legislative seats in 2012.
- African Americans: African Americans accounted for 6.6% of the Massachusetts population as of the 2010 Census but just 2.5% of state legislative seats in 2012.
- Asian Americans: Asian Americans accounted for 5.3% of the Massachusetts population as of the 2010 Census but just 1.5% of state legislative seats in 2012.
Despite major progress on race relations, Greater Boston is often perceived as behind other US regions in its level of inclusivity, equity and equal opportunity. Perhaps in response to widening inequality and stubborn disparities in educational attainment and health disparities, the region continues to lose young talent of color to cities and regions perceived to offer greater opportunity and to be more welcoming, such as Atlanta, New York City and the West Coast.
A widening income divide is undermining the shared experience of daily life that can inform and deepen a commitment to the common good: In Boston, as elsewhere, the economic downturn revealed and reinforced long-term trends such as widening income inequality. In 2010, the top 5% of Bostonians accounted for 25% of Boston’s total aggregate income while the bottom 20% accounted for just 2.2%. Diverging realities and future expectations are undermining a shared understanding of the common good. Between 1989 and 2004, the Gini coefficient of inequality increased faster in New England than in any other region of the nation and Massachusetts went from being the 22nd to 5th state in unequal income distribution.
With 351 municipalities in Massachusetts -- each with its own “sovereign” government -- local control often comes at the price of regional collaboration. While engagement in local government promotes informed local decision-making, it can also lead to overly restrictive local zoning that inhibits solid planning for regional transportation systems and affordable housing, fragmented environmental protection and regulation, a lack of coordination in human services and emergency response and inefficiency in the purchase of goods, services and health care.
In response to greater need and fewer public resources, volunteer activity – increasingly defined as a two-way exchange of experience – has increased. The local volunteerism resource Boston Cares reports that for Boston, Baby Boomers are the most rapidly growing cohort of volunteers and that, reflecting tough economic times; small to midsize companies have decreased their level of participation. Challenging economic times are also requiring many households to have two wage earners or wage earners holding multiple jobs, diminishing opportunities for civic participation. Moreover, despite a rising demand for skilled volunteers, there is no infrastructure in place for skills/needs coordination.
Consolidation across the industry and online media outlets have eroded traditional newspaper and television newsrooms – as well as accountability and accuracy: Under siege from the technological revolution and with declining advertising and circulation rates, local newspapers are both cutting back and being purchased by larger organizations. Circulation rates for the Boston Globe and Boston Herald continue to decline even as they seek a sustainable business model for online content. Information is increasingly sourced and consumed from online aggregated-content sites with strong points of view rather than local reporting based on local knowledge and relationships, with few ways to check accuracy, and with many worthy local stories going unreported.
Technological innovation and trends support greater expansion of social, hyper-local and ethnic media: Sharing, connecting and sourcing on-line information is coming to the fore, enriching and increasing hyper-local news sources from blogs to BNN-TV and PATCH. At the same time, Massachusetts Spanish TV Network or MAStv, launched in 2011, is offering more Spanish-language programming. At the same time, local and national support for public radio has grown, ethnic newspapers are thriving and Boston’s public radio stations WBUR and WGBH are now competing to be the region’s premier news outlet.
Even with breakthroughs by Boston’s Office of Urban Mechanics and others in providing timely online information to Bostonians, full access to information about important events, opportunities and services across sectors and communities remains a challenge. Resources such as the BostoNavigator, a database and website designed to enhance access and referrals to after-school programs and the Boston Public Schools’ website on Student Assignment Plans are needed to assist residents in understanding and addressing critical community issues.
A shift in non-profit practices toward data collection and measurement guides program development and assess impact. From the Boston Foundation to the Crittenden Women’s Union, ROCA, Year Up and Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), nonprofit organizations are moving to a data-driven performance and outcomes-based approach. This trend is being augmented by the Patrick Administration’s pilot “pay for performance” contracts in which specified outcomes must be met in order to receive payment.
Despite significant progress, the region remains challenged to strengthen its “collaborative gene.” Despite enormous progress, Greater Boston is still perceived by those who live and work here as needing to develop a greater degree of coordination and collaboration, particularly across industrial and commercial sectors, neighborhoods and regions across the Commonwealth that do not regularly work with or connect with one another.