Trends & Challenges
Boston, Greater Boston and Massachusetts have gained population in recent decades only due to an influx of foreign-born immigrants from across the world, and for more than a decade, Boston has been “majority minority.” In Boston, three-quarters of all children of color compared to 53% of the total population; and by 2020, almost half of the Massachusetts young workforce will be of color. Changing demographics are revitalizing many towns and neighborhoods and immigrant entrepreneurs account for a vastly disproportionate number of new businesses and jobs statewide. The challenge going forward is for newcomers to achieve full civic and electoral participation, and for all children to be educated to high global standards.
Greater leadership diversity…: From Massachusetts’ first-in-the nation re-election of an African American governor to the Boston City Council’s historic 2011election in which the first woman of color and second Latino were the top at-large vote getters to the first women presidents of Harvard and MIT, the region’s leadership is increasingly reflecting its growing diversity.
… But challenges remain: The region’s growing diversity is a powerful asset in an increasingly competitive global marketplace contributes to its economic dynamism, but there is substantial under-representation of many racial and ethnic groups in the leadership ranks of the public sphere and the private sector lags, with, for example, only about 12% women members of the boards of Greater Boston’s 100 largest companies, of which just 1.3% are women of color – both figures essentially unchanged since 2006. Similarly, just 25% of Massachusetts 200 elected legislators are women.
The region’s widening economic divide undermines the shared experience of daily life: 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.
With 351 municipalities in Massachusetts, each with its own “sovereign” government, local control often comes at the price of regional collaboration. While, on the one hand, local government promotes civic participation and informed local decision-making, it can also lead to overly restrictive local zoning that inhibit solid planning for regional transportation systems, regional environmental protection and remediation, affordable housing and the coordination emergency responses, the cost-effective purchase of goods and health care and publically funded human services.
Despite increasing diversity and major progress on race relations and leadership diversity, Greater Boston is perceived as behind other US regions in racial/ethnic inclusivity, regional 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 be more welcoming and to offer greater opportunity such as Atlanta, New York and the West Coast.
In response to greater need and fewer public resources, volunteer activity, which is increasingly defined as a two-way exchange of experience, is increasing sharply. The local resource Boston Cares reports that in Boston, Baby Boomers are the most rapidly growing cohort of volunteers, but in in tough economic times, small to midsize companies lag in participation. Moreover, the same trends spurring volunteerism require many households to have two wage earners or wage earners to hold multiple jobs, diminishing opportunities for civic participation. And despite rising demand for skilled volunteers there is no infrastructure in place for skills/needs coordination;
Industry consolidation and a sharp increase in online information sources are eroding traditional newspapers and television news outlets and accountability for 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, with many worthy local stories going unreported.
Sharp increasing 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.
Despite breakthroughs by Boston’s Office of Urban Mechanics in providing online information and services, it remains a challenge for Boston residents to find up-to-date information. More resources such as the BostoNavigator, a database and website designed to enhance access and referrals to after-school programs, are needed to assist residents in addressing such critical issues as school choice, student assignments and electoral and civic participation.
A shift in non-profit practices toward data collection and measurement guides program development and assess impact. From the Boston Foundation to the Crittendon 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.