Entries by Andrew Mikula

Even for the most remote part of Massachusetts (Franklin County), it’s far from business as usual

The Connecticut River valley is home to some of the most productive agricultural land in New England, and rural Franklin County, Massachusetts has some visible agricultural traditions. The county seat of Greenfield alone is home to several tree farms, a livestock producer, and a composting service.   At the same time, Franklin County is a poster child for the decades-long trend of declining agricultural and manufacturing jobs across the country, and COVID-19 has thrown an additional wrench into the county’s initiative to reshape its economic identity to emphasize tourism and the arts. The area’s patchwork of small towns has created an economic landscape that’s hard to categorize, as exhibited by the lack of a strong presence of any given industry […]

Once anchored by higher education, Hampshire County, MA finds itself out of work after a cancelled semester

The 38,000 college and university students at the Five College Consortium in Western Massachusetts essentially increase the population of Hampshire County by 25% each fall. With this large student population comes the need for ancillary academic services, dining options, recreation opportunities, shopping options, and nightlife. Thousands of local residents are employed on or near these college campuses as custodians, college store and postal service clerks, retail workers, coaches, health care workers, and special event coordinators. So when COVID-19 moved the nexus of student activity from sprawling campuses to the internet, many of these jobs disappeared overnight.   As a result, Amherst, home to three of the consortium’s five colleges, contains two of the three zip codes with the highest modeled […]

In Hampden County, COVID-19 exacerbates a stark employment divide between urban and rural areas

Hampden County, Massachusetts, home of Western New England’s largest city, Springfield, has more COVID-19 deaths per capita than any other Massachusetts county as of May 20. This tragic fact is driven by the 74 lives lost at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, a nation-leading figure for a single long-term care facility.    But while death rates are often hard to calculate in real time, researchers at Applied Geographic Solutions, Inc. in Thousand Oaks, California have started to estimate the virus’s impact on a key economic indicator: unemployment rates. And for Hampden County, the results are devastating. Multiple neighborhoods in and around downtown Springfield have estimated unemployment rates over 35%. Just 2 miles downstream on the Connecticut River, zip code 01106, in […]

As stay-at-home orders remain in place at the start of summer tourist season, COVID-19 takes a bite out of resort towns’ economies

Last month, Pioneer Institute showed that the hospitality and tourism sector is among the most negatively impacted industries from the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts. Now, this trend is clear on even the smallest scale, with zip codes reliant on seasonal tourism, lodgings, and recreation to fuel their economies estimated to have some of the highest unemployment rates in the state. This is according to Pioneer Institute’s new COVID-19 Unemployment Tracker, which presents unemployment estimates modeled by Applied Geographic Solutions, Inc., based in Thousand Oaks, California.    Take zip code 01247, mostly in North Adams, for example. It is home to the largest contemporary art museum in the United States, with several other history, science, and art museums and historic mansions […]

Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate of a 15.1 percent unemployment rate in April only reflects half of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 unemployment surge

Today’s release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of a 15.1% April unemployment rate for Massachusetts essentially reports the damage that has been done during the first five weeks of Massachusetts’ ten-week long unemployment tsunami. Since this data was collected by the U.S. Census Bureau during the week of April 12-18, Massachusetts has received 381,687 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims and 210,485 regular unemployment claims (UI) filed between April 20 and May 16. These UI and PUA claims equate to 15.6 percent of the MA civilian workforce as of March 14, when the unemployment surge began. MA Civilian workforce March 14 3,740,602 UI Claims April 19 – May 16 210,485 PUA Claims April 19  – May 16 371,202 Total 581,687 Total […]

How will COVID-19 affect the 2020 Census in Massachusetts?

On April 1, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau unveiled a flood of press releases and ads. The agency also received increased media coverage and posted more frequently on social media than usual. It was Census Day, the official date for which your place of residence is recorded for the 2020 Census. While not everyone completes the census form by April 1, it asks every American to indicate where they lived on April 1 for the sake of consistency.    This year, Census Day occurred at an exceptional time in the United States, and the impacts of COVID-19 on the process have quickly drowned out reports regarding the census’s political implications, staffing, and funding. As would-be census takers are subject to […]

During COVID-19 Outbreak, Compounding Challenges for Special Education Students

In Massachusetts, there’s a staunch and persistent negative correlation between the share of students with disabilities in a school and the school’s overall performance on MCAS testing. Consider it a sign that ongoing reforms are needed in special education to prepare all of our children for their future.    Special education students deserve particular attention, however, because unlike some other demographics – notably economically disadvantaged kids – they have grown in number consistently in recent years. Between 2013 and 2019, Massachusetts primary and secondary schools added over 10,000 children with disabilities, a growth rate of over 1 percent per year. They now comprise over 19 percent of the state’s K-12 enrollment.   Programming for these children is especially important during […]

Explosion in ESL enrollment creates new opportunities, challenges

  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, between 2010 and 2019, the population of Massachusetts grew by 344,718 people. It also estimates that, without immigration, the population would have declined by 17,052.    Immigrants have played an increasingly important role in the Commonwealth’s economy and culture over the past few decades, as the state has relied on international arrivals to offset out-migration among native born residents. Since 2000, there have been only two years in which the number of Americans moving to the Bay State was greater than the number of Massachusetts residents moving to other states. Every year from 2008 to 2018, immigrants ensured that the Commonwealth’s population kept growing by offsetting the losses that came from Bay Staters […]

COVID-19 will likely lead to a recession. Can Massachusetts municipal budgets handle one?

Using municipalities’ experiences during the Great Recession, a new policy brief examines the likely impact of COVID-19 on local property taxes, as well as political implications for state aid. We list the municipal revenues by category among the least tax-reliant communities in Massachusetts, show the trajectory of tax revenue growth rate in Massachusetts state and local governments, and rank stabilization fund assets per capita among Massachusetts Gateway Cities.

States across the country have enacted eviction moratoriums. What does this mean for the housing market in the long-term?

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill into law that essentially suspends the state’s eviction and foreclosure processes for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tenants’ rights and housing advocates largely viewed the measure as much-needed stabilization for the economy at a time when the country is likely facing a hard recession. Proponents believe that failing to provide a safety net for renters and homeowners alike would likely prolong the recession and aid the spread of the virus.    Still, property owners and real estate industry spokespeople have warned of the ripple effects of foregone rent payments once the eviction moratorium is lifted. At that point, the judicial system will likely face a backlog of eviction cases, leading […]

Elderly people were already vulnerable to COVID-19. Then it came to nursing homes.

Last week, reports of mismanagement and negligence regarding COVID-19 protocol at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, a state-run veterans’ nursing home, resulted in the deaths of at least 47 seniors. The administrative fallout, which largely consists of blame-shifting between state and local officials, made national headlines, and several investigations of the incident are ongoing.    But Holyoke is just the tip of the iceberg. As of April 15, nursing home residents make up over 40 percent of COVID-19 fatalities in Massachusetts (see Figure 1). People over the age of 70, regardless of their place of residence, have accounted for 85 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in the state.    Senior living facilities are uniquely vulnerable to this pandemic, especially given the reputation […]

Which industry’s workforce has been hurt the most from the COVID-19 outbreak?

Unemployment claims have reached all-time highs in the U.S. recently as COVID-19 rattles the world. The rapid shedding of jobs that started during the week ended March 21 has affected nearly every sector of the economy, from construction to manufacturing to personal services. Still, some industries remain more vulnerable than others as workers stay home and some online activities spike. Below, I examine how the share of employment claims by industry sector has changed over time.   The sector with the most unemployment claims in Massachusetts in March (including before the widespread layoffs due to COVID-19) was Food & Accommodation, which includes most restaurants, hotels, and tourism businesses. However, Food & Accommodation workers have not consistently risen as a share […]

Will the COVID-19-related economic recession cause a spike in crime?

Intuitively, it makes sense that people replace legitimate business with theft and fraud during desperate times. Many police agencies reported rising instances of robbery, burglary, and motor vehicle theft as a result of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Some publications have even suggested that those who finish their education during economic recessions disproportionately become career criminals rather than gain legitimate employment.     Other observers dispute the link between unemployment and crime, suggesting there are factors underlying increases in unemployment (like a drug abuse epidemic) that better explain the correlation and notable exceptions (like the Great Depression) that otherwise debunk it. With almost a decade of post-recession data analysis in the books, it’s clear that crime rates generally decreased in the […]

Accountability for casino revenue targets needs to be “in the cards”

Co-authored by Andrew Mikula and Greg Sullivan Everett’s Encore Boston Harbor has entered its third quarter of business with two pieces of good news. First, there has been renewed interest in the construction of a footbridge connecting the Orange Line to the shimmering resort casino, a major step towards improving accessibility and reducing traffic congestion in the vicinity. Second, USA Today named Encore as one of the best casinos outside of Las Vegas.   But there is also some bad news. The most recent Massachusetts Gaming Commission revenue report indicates that state revenue from Encore Boston Harbor will fall far short of the $201 million that the casino owner projected for fiscal year 2020 when it was vying for a […]

MBTA must get “on board” with commuter rail accessibility upgrades

If you regularly ride the MBTA commuter rail, you’ve probably experienced a number of delays, patchy service, limited parking, overcrowding, and outdated equipment. But some would-be riders have significant difficulty boarding the train in the first place at most stations – namely, the elderly, disabled, and otherwise mobility-impaired individuals.    The problem is that many of the system’s 143 station stops were designed in the 19th century, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated accommodating people in wheelchairs. As a result, a 2018 MBTA report listed a paltry 36 percent of commuter rail stations as “fully handicapped accessible” and 24 percent of the stations as requiring riders to climb stairs to board a train. Another 40 percent are “partially […]

MassDOT’s West Station design plans fall one track short

In 2014, MassDOT proposed the construction of West Station, a new transit hub in Allston-Brighton that would significantly improve the connectivity of Boston’s western suburbs with Cambridge and North Station. Using an old freight corridor called the Grand Junction Railroad, the project initially seemed like a neat work-around to the inevitably exorbitant costs and disruptiveness of the North-South Rail Link, at least for Framingham/Worcester Line users. Unfortunately, MassDOT’s recent designs for the station will potentially limit accessibility to new destinations and old ones alike.    Instead of a four-track ideal that would accommodate both inbound and outbound travel on each branch, MassDOT wants to limit local Framingham/Worcester Line trips to a single track to accommodate two express trains that existing […]

In the past few years, the tobacco industry has thrived in Massachusetts. Here’s why.

Despite recent good news about declines in alcohol, traditional cigarette, and hard drug use among young people, it seems that retailers of these heavily regulated (or just plain illegal) substances aren’t going away any time soon. The number of Massachusetts bars and nightclubs – or, in the words of the Census Bureau, “places primarily engaged in preparing and serving alcoholic beverages for immediate consumption” – has wavered between about 700 and 800 since the late 1990s in a pattern that, amusingly (and probably coincidentally), seems countercyclical (see Figure 1).    Figure 1:  Source: Your-economy Time Series   However, more concerning than the trend in drinking establishments is the trend in tobacco stores, defined as “establishments primarily engaged in retailing cigarettes, cigars, […]

After nearly a decade of national economic growth, Worcester economy is still a mixed bag

In 2018, Worcester had 111,553 employees and 10,546 businesses. The number of businesses grew by 51% from 1998 to 2018, while the total number of employees increased by 1% (see Figure 1 below).  However, the number of employees in the city declined by 20% between 2008 and 2011, which largely coincides with the Great Recession. Employment growth in Worcester has generally been positive since the end of the recession, keeping pace with population growth.   Figure 1: Trends in the number of employees and number of businesses in the city of Worcester, Worcester County, and Massachusetts as a whole                   Overall, trends in business and employment growth in Worcester closely resemble those of the […]

Is Boston’s Health Care Industry Still Growing? Here’s What the Data Says.

From 1998 to 2018 in Massachusetts, employment in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector grew by 45% and the number of establishments grew by 149%, as seen in Figures 1.a. and 1.b. below. The number of establishments has increased steadily over time with the exception of 2014-2015, while employment growth has fluctuated after the 2008 recession. Generally, year-to-year changes in employment and the number of establishments are positively correlated, with the major exception of the recession in 2008-2010, in which employment in the industry contracted and the number of business establishments grew. Figure 1.a. The number of employees in the Health Care and Social Assistance industry in Massachusetts over time Figure 1.b. The number of employers in the Health […]

Massachusetts Government Needs More Transparency on Financial Conflicts Of Interest

The Pioneer Institute recently released a new index rating the transparency and accessibility of each state’s Statements of Financial Interest. SFIs are disclosures used to determine if elected officials and policymakers have potential conflicts of interest.   Pioneer’s new index finds that, among states with procedures for reporting SFIs, Massachusetts has the lowest raw score (15 on a scale of 100). Ironically, states that commonly rank among the most politically corrupt in the country – like Illinois, Louisiana, and New York – have index scores of 90 or higher.    Pioneer’s rating is based on 7 underlying criteria: whether the SFIs are available online, whether the form is electronically searchable, whether the reports are free for the public to access, […]

Should Boston want to be the home of Amazon’s second headquarters?

Amazon is the kind of company whose mere presence is enough to transform a city. Billions of dollars in investment, tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, and a major impact on transportation and land use have characterized Amazon’s relationship with its primary home of Seattle. As the company continues to grow, its process to determine the location for its second headquarters has attracted momentous attention. Amazon finished site visits of proposed locations in May, and the so-called “HQ2” project continues to garner media attention from both local outlets and nationally renowned think tanks. At first glance, whichever city Amazon chooses seems to have won a kind of lottery. Infrastructure upgrades, all-but-guaranteed job growth, and a stage for international connections all […]

Is local government in Massachusetts too pervasive?

In a country as culturally and politically diverse as the United States, vastly different political systems have come to serve local populations in various states. Certain regions of the nation have far-reaching and invasive local government systems, while others have large swaths of the population that don’t have any sub-county government at all. A typical Greater Boston town has about 25,000 people, while urban conglomerations out west often consist mostly of unincorporated communities. Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, has well over 2 million residents but only 5 municipal governments. Meanwhile, Cumming, Georgia is a city of 6,000 people whose mailing address serves over 100,000 people. Cumming is the only incorporated community in its county. At the opposite extreme, […]

Investing in commercial development may ease fiscal woes without affecting crime

Bedford, Massachusetts is a suburban town of about 14,000 in the heart of Middlesex County. Its Wikipedia page boasts a charming picture of a historic train depot engulfed in fiery fall foliage. Driving through Bedford at night, you would hardly notice the slew of tech companies and manufacturing operations tucked into a corner of the town next to Route 3, the numerous hotels and motels that dot Route 4, or the community college that cozies up to the Billerica town line. During the day, however, Bedford’s population more than doubles because of people who are employed at all these establishments. The town’s employment/residence ratio is 3.44, almost twice that of Boston.   “Daytime population,” essentially a measure of population that […]

Boston’s housing boom needs a region-level response

In 1912 – the same year the Titanic sank and William Howard Taft was elected president – a Brookline lawyer, Daniel J. Kiley, wrote a bill for the Massachusetts state legislature that would have annexed 32 cities and towns – including such disparate communities as Lynn, Wellesley, and Weymouth – to the City of Boston. Kiley was part of an entire movement of urban policymakers who thought it was imperative to the Boston region’s economy to facilitate the coordination of each town’s government institutions. At an extreme, this meant annexation.   Boston’s (short) annexation history is quite unique in the context of older American cities. As a result, the region is well-connected economically, but divided into far more individual municipalities […]

Boston is a global city. Here’s why that status is threatened

Boston is often touted as a “global city.” A quick Google search will tell you that Boston is one of the best cities in the world for everything from quality of life to tech startups to commercial real estate investment. While traditionally an economic indicator, there’s now a general understanding that global cities have certain social and cultural institutions by definition. A smattering of global city rankings place Boston at 15th, 24th, 25th, and 46th. Others define a global city as having at least a million residents, under which parameter Boston doesn’t even qualify. Any index that tries to encapsulate dozens of indicators will miss some important nuances. Even if everyone suddenly agreed on the definition of a global city, […]

Has UMass used financial aid packages to favor out-of-state students?

A recent Pioneer Institute report concluded that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has more stringent admissions standards for Bay State students than it does for out-of-state students. Given that UMass is heavily funded by state residents’ tax dollars, some experts have questioned whether UMass is favoring out-of-state students and their tuition revenue rather than serving the broader interests of the Commonwealth. Despite the scrutiny over admissions, UMass has the ability to tip the scales towards out-of-state students in another way: merit-based financial aid.   UMass students have access to both state and UMass institutional programs for financial aid, both of which ultimately are funded partly by taxpayers. UMass may claim that state funding doesn’t directly contribute to financial aid […]

Massachusetts needs the 2020 Census to be accurate and adequately funded

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Massachusetts’ population grew at an almost unprecedented rate in the late 1990s, gaining nearly 200,000 residents between 1999 and 2000 alone. If Massachusetts had kept up this pace of growth, it would have over 10.8 million residents in 2018, as opposed to the more modest 6.8 million we actually see today.   Where did this astounding rate of population growth come from? An economic boom? An aggressive housing creation initiative? An influx of immigrants or refugees? None of the above. To put it bluntly, the St. Louis Fed’s data is misleading at best.     The problem is that their intercensal population figures for the 1990s come from an initial Census […]