A region coming apart

In this time of attention to growing income inequality in the US, the Boston Sunday Globe layered on a look at an important corollary to the separation of incomes: the growing geographic segregation by income.

Reporter David Scharfenberg, using data for Eastern Massachusetts crunched by sociologists Kendra Bischoff at Cornell and Sean Reardon at Stanford, offers a deep-dive on what he calls “a region pulling apart, with hundreds of thousands living in an economic isolation unlike anything in memory.”

The story, which does a great job weaving together income data and real-life stories from the region, reports that mixed-income neighborhoods have been disappearing, with just 4 out of 10 families living in such areas today compared with 7 in 10 in 1970. Meanwhile, more families in Eastern Massachusetts than ever live in census tracts that are either overwhelmingly low-income or high-income, with one-fifth of all families living in very poor neighborhoods and almost one-fifth living in the wealthiest areas.

The growing geographic segregation by income, which Scharfenberg writes is happening across the country, means that people of different means interact with each other far less than they used to. That is a central focus of Our Kids, a recent book by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, which chronicles the dramatically different lives being led by children from lower-income and upper-income families. Putnam’s book was the subject of this lengthy Conversation interview in last fall’s issue of CommonWealth. 

“We just don’t know how the other half lives,” Putnam tells Scharfenberg.

Putnam’s book lays out the countless ways that poor kids today are deprived of the sorts of opportunities that are likely to dramatically shape their life trajectory — everything from access to tutoring and extracurricular activities to the amount of time they are read to as young children. Adding insult to any such injuries, poor kids in the US today are less likely than wealthier kids to graduate from college even if they outscore them on tests in elementary and secondary school.

The Globe story spotlights, among many communities, Brockton, once home to a solid cadre of manufacturing-sector workers, where one-third of households are now on food stamps. Just a few towns over, writes Scharfenberg, sits Duxbury, now known to some as “Deluxebury,” where house prices have taken off and families send kids to summer “boot camps” to learn every trick needed to stand out in the increasingly competitive battle for admission to selective colleges.

As the country’s middle class has been hollowed out, it’s driven communities toward one end of the income spectrum or the other. That means Brockton’s solid working-class neighborhoods have turned into concentrated pockets of poverty, while Duxbury’s more modest middle-class residents have been replaced by higher earners.

Many factors have been at play in these trends. A prominent one has been the increasing premium paid for education. The income rewards for college education are higher than ever, as is the economic punishment for not getting past high school.

That reality has, in turn, turned the suburban housing market into a bidding war for better schools. It’s a phenomenon that Elizabeth Warren wrote about — and loudly decried — back in her days as an academic researcher, and it has been a huge factor fueling the segregation Scharfenberg writes about.

-MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

A House bill to regulate ride-hailing companies doesn’t include fingerprinting for Uber and Lyft drivers. (State House News)

Jim Conroy, who ran Gov. Charlie Baker‘s 2014 campaign and has served as a senior advisor in his office, is leaving state government but will continue to “informally advise” the governor. Baker communications director Tim Buckley will take on the added title of “senior advisor.” (Boston Globe)

Some state lawmakers are pushing legislation that would give city and town officials the authority to require nonprofits to make payments in lieu of taxes. (Salem News)

A conservative think tank is raising concerns about a controversial construction method used to build many of the state’s schools. (CommonWealth)

Lee’s proposed local gas tax faces an uphill battle at the State House. (Berkshire Eagle)

The state’s film tax credit is under scrutiny again. (Eagle-Tribune)

State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry says it’s no longer a big deal that she’s the first woman and first minority to host the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Southie and she indicated Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh would be targets for roasting at this year’s event. (Keller@Large)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni vetoes an ordinance that would have banned heavy trucks on Wheeler Street. (Eagle-Tribune)

CASINOS

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone says he’s willing to battle the proposed Wynn casino in Everett in a process that he says could block it from opening for “years and years.” (Boston Herald)

Shocking news: Plainridge Park Casino has yet to launch a system mandated by the state casino commision that would let gamblers set warning limits that alert them when they’ve gambled away more than some preset amount. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders get testy in a debate in Flint, Michigan. (WBUR) It got testy, but the face-off was a substantive debate on issues, a far cry from the last GOP round in which other matters rose to the top. (The New Republic) The candidates seemed to be back in the 1990s, talking NAFTA and Bill Clinton’s jobs record. (Time)

Donald Trump‘s uneven performance in weekend voting has emboldened the anti-Trump forces who plan to launch $10 million in attack ads for upcoming primaries in Florida and Illinois. (New York Times)

Despite Trump’s tough talk about China, a Trump tower going up in New Jersey is seeking Chinese investors who will receive visas for them and their families if they pony up. (Bloomberg) The controversial investment program being used by Trump was the focus of a CommonWealth story last year.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh co-author a Globe op-ed arguing against full legalization of marijuana, a question that is likely to come before voters on the November ballot.

Baker continues to pile up campaign money, pulling in nearly $234,000 in the last two weeks of February as his war chest bulges to more than $2.8 million. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Boston’s building trades unions are offering to scale back their wage rate on projects to build affordable housing, a move they say will help lower the cost of such production. (Boston Globe)

HarborOne Bank, based in Brockton, has begun an initial public stock offering. (The Enterprise)

The arrest of a New Bedford fishing kingpin on conspiracy and fraud charges has put the spotlight on the controversial quota system that limits catches. (Standard-Times)

Quick, name the country with the second largest film industry in the world. If you said Nigeria, go to the front of the line. India is first with the United States in third. (U.S. News & World Report)

EDUCATION

Justin Norton, a teacher at Boston Latin Academy, says it would be a big step back to repeal the Common Core education standards the state adopted six years ago, a proposal that will be subject of a State House hearing today and possible ballot question this fall. (CommonWealth)

The Patriot Ledger calls Gov. Charlie Baker‘s proposed 1.6 percent increase in state funding for public schools “a joke” and says he isn’t doing what’s needed to improve public education.

Boston public schools students are planning a walkout for 11:30 this morning to protest budget cuts. (Boston Globe)

Catholic schools in Lowell and across Massachusetts are facing financial pressures forcing many of them to close. (The Sun)

A parent forces his way onto a Springfield school bus and pulls a gun as he seeks to remove his daughter. (Masslive)

UMass Dartmouth, which convicted terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended, declined a request by producers of the Boston Marathon bombing movie to film scenes on campus. (Herald News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A report by the University of Massachusetts Medical School examines the 200,000 people in the state without health insurance. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Department of Justice is investigating possible billing fraud at five hospitals owned by Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services, the state’s largest provider of mental health services. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION 

A Herald editorial says the case of the MBTA driver of December’s runaway Red Line train — who had five serious safety violations on his record — highlights how hard it is under contract rules to fire T employees.

A Globe editorial backs the more modest of two MBTA fare increases being considered as the T’s control board prepares to consider the hike at its meeting today.

Who should be regulating driverless cars? (Governing)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Engineers from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission petitioned as private citizens for the agency to force the owners of the Pilgrim power plant to fix critical design flaws in the facility’s cooling system or shut the reactor down. (Cape Cod Times)

A study finds fish are seeking cooler waters as ocean temperatures rise, indicating it is climate change rather than overfishing or declining food supplies that account for decreasing populations in traditional habitats. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Salem News editorial focuses on the arrest of a burglar in Newburyport, and says the case shows that prosecutors should focus on prior “bad acts” and law enforcement should post mugshots of wanted suspects.

PASSINGS

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, the fiercest protector of her husband’s presidency and legacy, died Sunday at the age of 94. (New York Times)