Illustrations by Travis Foster
GREEN CARS MAY HIT GLASS CEILING
Hybrid cars, which are partly powered by electric batteries and thus burn less gasoline, are surging in popularity, according to automotive industry analyst R.L. Polk & Co. The number of hybrid cars registered last year was 83,153, an annual increase of 81 percent. Massachusetts ranked ninth in new registrations, with 2,520; the rate of increase was about one percentage point higher than the national average.
But this rapid growth may not last. There were an impressive 5,613 hybrid registrations in Virginia (second only to California), but the annual increase there was only 57 percent, suggesting that hybrid auto manufacturers are approaching a ceiling in the “green” market there. (The early popularity of such cars in Virginia may have also been fueled by a law permitting hybrids with single occupants in carpool lanes, at least through mid-2006.) According to the University of Michigan’s Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, hybrid growth is expected to cool down to about 33 percent a year by 2011 — at which point the environmentally friendly cars will account for barely more than 2 percent of all cars in use.
KEEPING AHEAD OF THE BILL COLLECTORS
For the most part, bankruptcies were most common in the South and West, but Ohio placed a rather startling eighth, even as next-door Pennsylvania, which has similar economic conditions, was 31st. According to the nonprofit research group Policy Matters Ohio, one reason may be looser regulation of lending practices, particularly of “payday loan” businesses that offer consumers advances on their paychecks but carry annual interest rates of as much as 400 percent. Payday loans are banned in 15 states, including Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
RACCOONS AND SKUNKS ARE TOPS IN RABIES
According to state Department of Public Health, August is the biggest month in terms of animals tested for rabies. The positive rate for all animals tested was about 10 percent in 2004, up by a point or so over the previous year, and almost all of the infected animals were skunks and raccoons. The highest positive rate (19 percent) was in Barnstable County, which has seen an uptick in rabid raccoons.
From 1992 through 2002, some 3,900 animals tested positive for rabies — again, almost all of them skunks and raccoons. Only four of 4,349 dogs tested positive over that time, but the “cleanest” animal seems to be the squirrel, with no positive results out of 1,167 tested animals.
Homeownership is rising in the Bay State, but not as quickly as it is nationally. The share of households in the US who own the roofs over their heads has passed the two-thirds mark, from 64.5 percent in 1984 to 69.0 percent in 2004, according to the US Census Bureau. Over the same period, the homeownership rate in Massachusetts rose more slowly, from 61.7 percent to 63.8 percent. As a result, we fell from 44th to 46th place in a ranking of all states, with Alaska and Nevada passing us by. California, Hawaii, New York, and Rhode Island still have lower homeownership rates.
FEWER BABIES, STILL PLENTY OF MICHAELS
Some 80,000 infants were born in Massachusetts in 2003, according to figures released this spring by the state Department of Public Health — about the same as in the previous year but down 13 percent since 1990. The birth rate was 56.2 per 1,000 women ages 15 through 44, compared with 66.1 for the national rate.
The state registered the second lowest infant mortality rate in its history (4.8 deaths per 1,000 live births) and continued to post a teenage birth rate well below the national average (22.6 births per 1,000 women aged 15 through 19, versus 41.7 births nationally). But the share of infants who weigh less than 5.5 pounds has been steadily rising (7.6 percent, up from 5.8 percent in 1990), partly because of an increase in multiple births and a rise in the average age of women giving birth (now a record high 29.8 years).
Among the 30 largest municipalities, the birth rate was highest in Lawrence, Lynn, and Lowell, and lowest in Newton, Barnstable, and Medford. (Teen birth rates, with a slightly different geographic pattern, were highest in Lawrence, Springfield, and New Bedford.)
According to data released this spring by the US Social Security Administration, the most popular baby names in Massachusetts in 2004 were Michael, Matthew, and Ryan for boys (with Daniel replacing Joshua in the top 10), and Emily, Emma, and Olivia for girls (with Ava and Madison replacing Samantha and Hannah in the top 10). The most popular boy’s name in the country, Jacob, continued to be noticeably less common in the Northeast; it finished ninth in the Bay State.
HOT DAYS, SHORT FUSES
The latest edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States confirms that July and August are consistently the most violent months of the year throughout the US (though burglary season can last much longer, continuing through October). Not much new there, but the FBI did note some changes in the motives for homicide. From 1999 to 2003, the number of murders associated with “narcotic drug laws” rose from 581 to 666, and the number associated with “juvenile gang killings” increased from 580 to 819. At the same time, the number associated with a “brawl due to influence of alcohol” fell from 203 to 128, and the number associated with a “romantic triangle” slipped from 137 to 98.
Violent crime rates were lowest in the Northeast in 2003, but Massachusetts had a startlingly high rate of aggravated assault (343 incidents per 100,000 people vs. the national rate of 310) even as it boasted one of the lowest rates of murder (2.7 incidents per 100,000 vs. the national rate of 5.6). Perhaps Bay Staters are quicker to brawl than are residents of other states, but another possible explanation is that local police departments here are likelier to categorize fisticuffs as a crime.
GIVING MORE THAN OUR SHAREJohn Kerry’s home state retained its status as an ATM machine for the Democratic Party last year. According to www.opensecrets.org, Massachusetts ranked eighth overall in contributions to presidential and congressional candidates during the 2004 election cycle. More precisely, the state ranked fifth in contributions to Democrats ($45.4 million) and 20th in contributions to Republicans ($15.9 million). That 74-26 ratio was tied with Vermont as the most lopsided in favor of the Democrats, and it was up from the 66 percent of Bay State contributions captured by the Democratic Party in 2002 and 63 percent in 2000.
The Top 40 zip codes, measured by the amount of cash given to federal candidates, included one from the Bay State: Cambridge’s 02138. (The top five were all in Manhattan.) About 89 percent of that zip code’s $4.0 million in contributions went to Democrats.