Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster

Getting our Irish up

Here’s another way in which Massachusetts is different from the rest of the nation. The US Census Bureau reported this summer that German remains the most common ancestral group in the US, with 15.2 percent of respondents claiming that label on the 2000 Census “long form.” But in Massachusetts, Germans represented only 5.9 percent of the population, lower than all but a handful of states.

Not surprisingly, Massachusetts was the most Irish state in the nation in 2000, with 22.5 percent of Bay State respondents claiming ties to the Emerald Isle. Nationally, the Irish label ranks second, with 10.8 percent of the population, but it takes the top spot in only three states (the others being Delaware and New Hampshire). Looking at other New England states, Connecticut and Rhode Island have more Italians than any other ethnic group, while the English still enjoy pluralities in Maine and Vermont.

The Irish are the most populous ancestral group in 11 of the 14 Bay State counties. The exceptions are Franklin and Dukes, where the English have bragging rights, and Bristol, which is one of only two counties in the US where the Portuguese are No. 1. (Curiously, the other one is also the only other county in the US named Bristol—in Rhode Island.)

Lions and tigers and m-cats! Oh my!

With high-school football season upon us, we wondered about the most popular mascots in Massachusetts and toted up the nicknames among the 344 public, private, and charter schools that list teams with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. It turns out there’s a tie for first place: 19 high schools have teams called the Panthers, and another 19 call themselves the Warriors. They’re followed by the Tigers and the Raiders (including variants such as the Red Raiders), at 15 schools each. Twelve schools have adopted the Eagles as a nickname (including, of course, Boston College High School), and 11 are known as the Wildcats. Overall, 140 teams have animal names, 58 from the feline family. Despite charges of racial insensitivity over such names, there are still nine teams called the Indians and two teams called the Redmen (not to mention those Red Raiders).

Among the most unusual nicknames: the Saint Clement (Medford) Anchormen, presumably a nautical rather than a newscaster reference; the Bourne Canalmen; the Springfield Science and Technology School’s Cybercats; the Hopkinton Hillers; the Maimonides (Brookline) M-Cats; the Lenox Millionaires; the Holy Name Central (Worcester) Naps, which is short for Napoleon, not naptime; and the Woburn Tanners and Tannerettes, in honor of the city’s once-thriving tanning industry. Woburn is one of only two schools that have different names for male and female teams (Sutton High has the Sammies and the Suzies), but the Keefe Technical High School in Framingham has an arguably less-than-masculine name with the Unicorns. Inevitably, Salem High School has the Witches. The most perplexing name may come from my own alma mater: the Malden Golden Tornadoes.

Cranberry highs

The US Department of Agriculture forecasts a substantial jump in the Bay State’s cranberry crop this year. At 1.8 million barrels, the yield would be up 28 percent from 2003 and up 24 percent from 2002. That’s far better than the national forecast of 6.6 million barrels, which is up 6 percent from 2003, 16 percent from 2002. Massachusetts accounts for 27 percent of the national crop, second only to Wisconsin, which produces 54 percent of the nation’s cranberries.

Fewer bosses in the bay state

According to a new report from the US Small Business Association, Massachusetts ranked 47th in the percentage change of employer “births” in 2003. Only 18,984 new employers were founded, down from 21,262 the year before. Only California, Colorado, and Georgia suffered worse slowdowns. Arkansas, Montana, and Idaho showed the biggest gains.

During the same year, more employers in Massachusetts closed up shop (21,870) than opened their doors. The number of “deaths” was up from 20,927 in 2002.

SUVs on the rise

According to the US Census Bureau, the number of SUVs registered in Massachusetts has risen 44 percent since 1997, to just under 600,000. But that’s on the low end of the 14 states for which the Census Bureau has released information so far. The number of SUVs in Georgia and Indiana more than doubled during that period.

Massachusetts now has about one SUV for every 11 people, which is about average, but so far it is the only state where SUVs outnumber pickup trucks. There is only one pickup for every 14 people here, compared with one for every four people in Georgia.

MBTA: More buses than anything?

According to the American Public Transportation Association, ridership on the MBTA rose by 1.2 percent in 2003, going against a national trend in which mass transit ridership fell by 2.0 percent. But the gain was entirely due to the T’s bus fleet. Passengers made 112 million trips by bus in 2003, up from 105 million the year before; the 7.4 increase was the largest of any major metropolitan area. However, trips by subway, light rail (the Green Line), and commuter rail all decreased slightly, in line with national trends. It was the third consecutive year of losses on the T’s three “heavy rail” subway lines, which is now down to 124 million annual trips.

APTA also reports that the busiest months for mass transit nationwide are in March and October, with the lightest months in August and November.

A few more people, a lot more traffic

As of 2002, Boston ranked 11th among 85 US metropolitan areas in the costs associated with traffic congestion, according to a recent report by the Texas Transportation Institute. Slow or stalled traffic conditions resulted in the loss of 81.1 million person-hours that year, up from 25.5 million lost person-hours in 1982.

Because so many people are moving farther and farther from their jobs, the amount of time stuck in traffic jams went up even though Boston has had comparatively slight population growth over the past couple of decades. From 1982 through 2002, the population of metropolitan Boston grew by only 6.3 percent, compared with a growth rate of 30.4 percent for all 85 urban areas included in the study. (During that time, the metro area, defined by commuting patterns, expanded from 910 square miles to 1,165 miles, or well into New Hampshire, meaning that the population density of Greater Boston actually decreased.)

But during that same time period, the number of “peak hour” travelers went up by 19.0 percent (compared with a jump of 68.7 percent nationally). And daily vehicle-miles on freeways went up by 47.3 percent (compared with 115.8 percent nationally), while daily vehicle-miles on arterial streets went up 25.4 percent (compared with 159.6 percent nationally).

A government of bills, not laws

More bills are introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature than in almost any other state, according to a report by the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. In 2002, 7,924 bills were introduced on Beacon Hill; among the 42 states researched by the Brennan Center, only New York (with 16,892) and Illinois (with 8,717) posted higher numbers.

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As for the success of these bills in making it all the way to law, Massachusetts is near the bottom. The “legislative enactment rate” here was only 6.7 percent, lower than all but three states (New York at 4.1 percent, and New Jersey and North Carolina, both at 2.7 percent). The state legislature that seems to have spent the least time on doomed bills was in Maine, where 85 percent of all introduced bills eventually became law.

The Brennan Center report called New York’s legislative process “the most dysfunctional in the nation,” and noted several ways in which the Albany State House was more secretive than the one in Boston. For example, proxy voting is allowed in New York Senate committees; the rules committees in both houses of the New York Legislature are exempt from meeting notice requirements; and the leader of the New York Senate can indefinitely remove bills from the legislative calendar without any way for the full membership to override his or her decision.