Lies, Damned Lies, and Rural Stats

Trump support corresponds to need for economic development. Hmmm ... - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

By Lee Harrison and Lisa Moscynski, Co-Chairs, Rural Issues Subcommittee of the Massachusetts Democratic Party

If Mark Twain were alive today, he would have been amused by Evan Horowitz’s April 7 article in the Globe, “City and Country Folk: We’re Mostly the Same in Massachusetts” because it proves his maxim that “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  And while many of us west of Rte. 495 shake our heads and chuckle in disbelief at Mr. Horowitz’s findings, articles like this can do real harm to real rural Massachusetts.

We don’t know how Mr. Horowitz defines “rural,” but in the vast majority of small towns west of Rte. 495, people definitely do not earn “approximately the same incomes” as people in Newton or Brookline.  Of course, Mr. Horowitz uses averages, which is always a red flag, for a man can easily drown in a stream with an average depth of one foot.  Besides, median values, i.e., half above and half below, are much better tools for comparison.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, the annual median household income in Berkshire County was under $50,000 – the lowest in the state – with Hampden County next lowest with just over $50,000.  Franklin and Bristol counties were under $60,000, as was Suffolk County, which includes many wealthy and poor families.  At the other end of the income spectrum are Norfolk ($88,262) and Middlesex ($85118) counties, which shows how proximity to Boston skews the numbers.  Worcester County ($65,313) is below Essex ($69,068), which is roughly the middle of the pack.

Unemployment rates show the same kind of discrepancies between Boston-centric and real rural Massachusetts.  In February, while the unemployment rate for all of Massachusetts was 4.2%, in Berkshire County the rate was 5.3%, in Hampden 5.6%.  Nantucket, Dukes, and Barnstable counties were even higher, but seasonal employment in those regions is certainly a factor.  By contrast in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Middlesex counties – Boston and its suburban ring – the rate was 3.5% or lower.  This is a critical difference, a story that averages don’t tell, and Mr. Horowitz should know that.

And despite what Mr. Horowitz would like us to believe, voting our voting patterns differ markedly, too.  As analyst Brent Benson notes:  “While western Massachusetts, the Boston Metropolitan Area and other urban areas, the tip of Cape Cod, and the Islands show strong Democratic tendencies in statewide elections, Central Massachusetts, parts of the North Shore, and Southern Massachusetts – from Tolland in the west to Dennis in the east – are much more Republican.”

In fact, WBUR reported on April 12, that, “In central Massachusetts, you can travel from New Hampshire to Connecticut or Rhode Island entirely through towns that voted for President Trump.”  The radio station also noted that, “As many as 90% of voters in the central Massachusetts towns where Donald Trump received more votes for president than Hillary Clinton still view the president ‘very positively’ and believe he will, eventually, deliver on his campaign promises.”

So, yes, contrary to what Mr. Horowitz has written, Massachusetts voters are indeed divided.  And unless our leaders see past superficial and misleading articles like this and reach out to improve education, transportation, and broadband to expand the overall economies of our real rural areas, this gap will only increase.


7 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Insult-to-injury department

    On the topic of disparate access to broadband, the Gov wants the agency that handles unemployment insurance benefits to have the authority to require anybody applying for them to do so via the internet, unless the agency, on a case-by-case basis, can be persuaded to show mercy.

    Piling on in those 40 towns in Berkshire and Franklin that are still waiting to be connected.

    • State agencies are always surprised

      I deal with one, and they are trying to force using the internet and tablets on clients. I pointed out to the director that we did not HAVE any FIOS in Barnstable County and would never get it due to economic issues.

      His was response was – Really? I thought that was just WESTERN Mass.!

  2. Speaking of lies, damn lies, and statistics

    he vast majority of small towns west of Rte. 495, people definitely do not earn “approximately the same incomes” as people in Newton or Brookline.

    Neither do the people of Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Winthrop, Quincy, or Weymouth. You’re comparing a vast region to two cherry-picked communities. I suspect Mr. Clemens would find your comment noteworthy.

    And you’re cherry picking isn’t even very good. According to this Dec 2015 Globe article, Brookline isn’t in the top 20% of Massachusetts communities by median household income. In fact, the largest incomes are in the 128 ‘burbs, not the urban areas (Longmeadow notwithstanding).

  3. Might as well vote for Trump....

    I can’t make a good argument against anyone in the aforementioned towns who voted for Trump. Maybe I will be able to after four years IF the Democrats nominate someone whose message is central to “working class” and nothing else, but that’s not looking too good at the moment. Even when Trump fails to deliver on higher wages, better health care, and a stronger America, if all the Democrats can offer is “Love Trumps Hate”, if I were a struggling working class type, what’s the harm in giving Trump another stab at it?

    As for Massachusetts, New York and California are making strides into a $15 minimum wage while Vermont and Colorado are looking to make health care a real “right”…..but here in Massachusetts, we just managed to get casinos and give GE a big wet tax free kiss.

  4. Economically divided state and country

    I stumbled across this article. It articulates many of the points I have been trying to raise, but much better than I could ever do.

    Although it talks mostly of “Rural America”, it really means “anywhere that is not a big city”. It describes how our economic recovery has been massively uneven, and has basically only occurred in large urban areas. It mentions how housing is skyrocketing in those urban areas because anyone who can move to those areas is trying to, to get the jobs that remain.

    It posits, “should we just relax zoning laws and insist that everyone move into those urban areas”, and rejects it, saying “But it would be impossible for them to increase fast enough to actually stabilize or lower housing prices. Empty land is gone; they’d have to primarily rely on “infill” development: tearing down existing structures and replacing them with new ones. No human community could tolerate having its roads and buildings and infrastructure continuously ripped up at the necessary scope and pace.”

    (I know how people feel about the idea of spreading housing further out and compensating with public transportation; let’s just leave that alone for now).

    It concludes that because this shift in the economy was due to national policies, it isn’t right to just let most of the nation die. Policies that cut government (i.e the sequester). Deregulation of airlines and rail. Lack of antitrust enforcement which allowed major corporations in large cities to “economically strip-mine much of the rest of the country”. (Like when all the local banks in the Springfield region were purchased by larger out-of-region banks)

    That article links to another article which goes into even more detail:

    It outlines how the government, from the inception of our country until the late 1970s, had made sure that the playing field was regionally fair. But then it stopped, and by stopping, allowed some areas to win really, really big – because other areas were losing really, really big.

    These two links are very good reads, and I would encourage people to read them to get a perspective as to just why we have such a geographic economic divide in both this state and country.

  5. America divided

    Here’s another article on a similar topic:

    The premise is that our country is dividing into two distinct groups:

    the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

    and the other group, with which the FTE sector rarely interacts:

    the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

    This has become an economic divide, a geographical divide, and a social divide. The two groups don’t work for the same companies (how many of you work at a company where the cleaning staff are employees?). They don’t live near each other (how many people in this state live in communities which don’t even allow multi-family housing, or if they do, such housing is either restricted to seniors or jammed into a corner of the community like a crazy old uncle)? They don’t interact with each other (if you’re a professional, how many people do you hang out with who work at service sector jobs for low wages?)

    This is the reason that we have Donald Trump for a president – the top 20% or so people in the economy think that things were great. Trump pointed out to quite a few of the other 80% that Clinton and Democrats were lying. He was right because things aren’t great to that 80%.

    • Then there are those of us...

      …who identify with the first group, having had many of the privileges cited in that paragraph, yet find ourselves more and more living the reality of the second group, encompassing all the challenges cited in that paragraph. Given the track records I will still trust Dems more than the GOP hands down to expand the scope of the first group and help people in the second.

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Mon 24 Apr 11:19 AM