Entries by Andrew Mikula

Youth Basketball and COVID-19: Preparing an Indoor Winter Sport for a Global Pandemic

With a COVID-19 vaccine’s widespread availability still estimated to be sometime in 2021, the world faces a long winter in which the coronavirus will likely continue disrupting our daily lives by reshaping the realm of physical activity. Many of the most prevalent impacts of this ongoing hardship will be borne by children, whose physical and emotional development is greatly aided by participating in team sports.         This year’s Pioneer Institute & Nichols College Sports Management Policy College Case Competition sought policy-driven adaptive solutions that will allow youth to continue participating in these sports even during a public health crisis. The winning team, consisting of Isabella Nerney, Dylan Pella, Adam Phillips, and Shannon St. Lawrence, all undergraduates at Nichols College, has […]

Pioneer wants to know how many people with dementia have died in Massachusetts nursing homes. State government can’t even tell us how many people live in them. 

Last month, Pioneer Institute sent a public records request to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) asking for data on the population of the state’s long-term care facilities. The goal was to determine whether COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people with serious pre-existing conditions particular to the old and frail, such as dementia. Pioneer was extremely disappointed with the response sent to us by the state Department of Public Health (DPH), which potentially revealed shocking gaps in information on the facilities that the agency oversees.    Specifically, Pioneer asked for the following: The number of residents of long-term care facilities in Massachusetts as of February 29, 2020  The number of residents of long-term care facilities in Massachusetts […]

Public Policy Guide for Economic Recovery from COVID-19 in the Retail and Hospitality Sectors

This new guide to economic recovery in the retail and hospitality industries published by Pioneer Institute calls for the federal and state governments to consider consumption-based refundable tax credits for brick and mortar businesses; the federal government to conduct a detailed study of the costs and benefits of suspending employer-side payroll taxes; businesses to pay special attention to developing and marketing their cleanliness, hygiene and contactless procedures; and third-party customer review sites to include comments about the implementation of COVID safety measures to provide options and reassurance to safety-minded consumers.

Open Letter: COVID-19 Study and Recommendations Task Force established pursuant to Massachusetts Bill H.4672

Recently, Governor Baker signed legislation, H. 4672, that would create a Covid-19 task force, appointed by the legislature,  to study and make recommendations to the general court that address health disparities among certain populations based on certain characteristics, including age, and which also asks the future task force to recommend other impacted populations for further study.  Pioneer has prepared a public letter to that future task force that contains a list of specific recommendations regarding Covid-19 and the state’s nursing homes. 

Announcing the Pioneer Institute & Nichols College Sports Management Policy College Case Competition

In recognition of the cancellation of many student internships for summer 2020, especially those in the sports management industry held concurrently with major sporting events, Pioneer Institute has partnered with Nichols College to provide undergraduate college students an opportunity to solve problems pertinent to the present COVID-19 crisis in a rewarding, competitive format.    The Institute is working to facilitate the adaptation of youth sports leagues to these challenging times for the benefit of our children’s physical and mental wellbeing. Enforcing cleanliness procedures among young athletes can be extremely challenging, and we believe this issue deserves more attention in advance of a potential resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.    Youth sports are used to teach children interpersonal communication, discipline, […]

As the COVID-19 Pandemic Spurs Consumer Shift to E-Commerce, the Massachusetts Sales Tax Collection System Deserves Renewed Scrutiny

At a time when state tax revenues are plummeting, a plan to modernize sales tax collection could get money into state coffers more quickly. This report analyzes the merits of a two-part proposal Governor Baker included in his January state budget submission to streamline state sales tax collections. Sullivan and Mikula find that the first part of Baker’s plan makes sense and is entirely feasible because advances in electronic data processing and electronic funds transfer have eliminated the need for protracted remittance timetables.

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 […]

Telecommuting Survey Reveals Potential for Greater Shift Towards Remote Work After COVID-19 Pandemic

Citing an avoidance of the commute and more flexible scheduling, nearly 63 percent of respondents to Pioneer Institute’s survey, “Will You Commute To Work When The COVID-19 Crisis Is Over?” expressed a preference to work from home one day a week, and a plurality preferred two to three days a week, even after a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

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.

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 MA, 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 […]