Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster

the graying of the do-gooders

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteerism is on the decline in Massachusetts, while it’s flat in the nation as a whole. The CNCS survey indicated that 27.0 percent of Bay State residents over 16 did volunteer work in 2005, down from 28.2 percent the year before. Nationally, the percentage was the same for both years, 28.8 percent.

In terms of who does the volunteering in Massachusetts, a composite of categories with the highest rates would yield a 45-to-54-year-old white married woman. The most common activity is fundraising, and the most common affiliation is with an educational or youth-oriented organization. Nationally, the model volunteer is 35 to 44 years old; the most common category of activity is “coaching, refereeing, tutoring, teaching, or mentoring,” and the most common affiliation is with a religious organization.

In what might be a worrisome sign for the future, Massachusetts ranks 26th in the percentage of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) who reported volunteer work between 2003 and 2005, but a poor 47th in the percentage of young adults (ages 16 to 24) who gave their time and effort. Only 19 percent of young adults in Massachusetts were volunteers, compared with 24 percent nationally. Other than Baby Boomers, the only people more likely to volunteer in Massachusetts than they were nationally were African-Americans—23 percent vs. 22 percent.

barney frank, right-winger

In July New American magazine, an offshoot of the staunchly conservative John Birch Society, awarded three Bay State congressmen—Barney Frank, Ed Markey, and Martin Meehan—a surprisingly respectable 50 percent rating based on 10 congressional votes over the past year. That’s better than 183 of the 230 Republicans who were rated on the same criteria. The three Massachusetts reps, who are generally considered among the most liberal in the House, were given points for voting against re-authorization of the Patriot Act; supporting a measure to block a United Arab Emirates company from managing American seaports; and voting against appropriations measures that included agricultural subsidies and funding for the Iraqi war.

On the Senate side, the Bay State’s John Kerry voted with the Birchers on four out of 10 issues, including the setting of a timetable to withdraw from Iraq. Among the senators receiving zeroes were Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who dutifully voted for several spending measures advanced by President Bush but opposed by those who prefer a minimalist government.

back to an empty ballot

As it did four years ago, South Carolina is saving Massachusetts from the dubious distinction of having the least competitive roster of legislative races in the nation. Only 26 percent of the seats in the 160-member Massachusetts House of Representatives are being contested by both the Democratic and Republican parties this year. That’s down from the relatively respectable 51 percent two years ago, when Gov. Mitt Romney helped put together a large roster of Republican candidates, and even worse than the 31 percent showing in 2002, which was the last time the Bay State ranked next to the bottom among the 44 states in which the entire lower legislative body is up for election in even-numbered years.

the history of the world unabridged

Thanks in part to its coverage of Islam and the Middle East, Massachusetts was one of eight states to receive an “A” for its K-12 world history curriculum from the Washington, DC–based Thomas B. Fordham Institute this summer. “Standards drafted before 9/11 often assume there is no history to speak of after the fall of Rome and before the Middle Ages,” the report said of other states—or, to put it in pop culture terms, after Monty Python’s Life of Brian and before Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Bay State’s weakest score (eight points out of possible 10) came in the “Mexico and Western Hemisphere” category, but even here we did better than any other Northeastern state.

some diplomas weigh less in the bay state

The default rate on student loans among graduates of Bay State colleges (2.9 percent) is lower than in any state except Wisconsin, according to US Department of Education data released this summer, but it’s not because students don’t leave school with a tab. According to the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley, Calif., in 2005 Massachusetts ranked 21st in debt load for all graduates of four-year colleges, at $18,169. Graduates of private colleges here ranked slightly lower in debt burden compared with their national peers—at 28th, with $19,953 in loans—but since a far greater share of students attend private schools in Massachusetts than in the rest of the nation, our overall debt ranking was several notches higher.

What would really lighten the loan load here would be if more students attended public institutions of higher education. The Project on Student Debt ranks Massachusetts 46th in the nation for average debt of a graduate from a public four-year school, at $14,326. By contrast, Iowa produces the most-burdened public-college graduates, with an average debt of $23,198, even though, according to the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges, average tuition and fees for public colleges in 2005-06 were almost the same in both states—$5,660 in Massachusetts and $5,620 in Iowa, both a bit above the national average of $5,491. But with household incomes significantly higher in the Bay State, it may be that public college students here are less dependent on loans to cover the same costs.

but mortgages weigh more in springfield

Meet the Author

Refinancing a home mortgage is much more likely to be a bad deal in western Massachusetts than in the Boston area, according to a September report from the Consumer Federation of America. The CFA examined the “subprime” segment of the refinancing market—referring to loans that have high interest rates and are generally given to borrowers with less-than-ideal credit ratings. Many of these loans are used to pay off credit cards and other consumer debts, with the house serving as collateral.

In Massachusetts as a whole, subprime loans represented 24.3 percent of the total refinancing market in 2005, below the national average of 26.5 percent. But while Boston and Cape Cod had among the lowest shares of subprime loans among the 317 metropolitan areas in the report, the higher-interest loans accounted for 41 percent of the market in Springfield. That metro area ranked 61st nationwide, falling between Huntington, W. Va., and Dalton, Ga.