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Coleman Nee, The Strategy Group, Inc. 617-263-3344


in Moving Massachusetts Poor and Low-Income Families Toward Self-Sufficiency

Boston, MA

Boston — A recent study by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) for The Workforce Solutions Group of Boston has found that over the course of the 1990s, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts failed to make any progress in reducing the poverty rate from 6.7% of Massachusetts families.   Moreover, as of 1999, more than 417,000 Massachusetts families, almost 27% of all Massachusetts households, are unable to "get by" as defined by the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency (FESS) Standard of The Women's Union.  

The CLMS study looked at changes in the economic well-being of families in various regions of Massachusetts in various regions of the Commonwealth over the 1990s and, in some cases, the 1980s.   Findings have identified that in recent years many low income families are unable to bridge the gap to self-sufficiency. The intensity of these family income inadequacy problems varies considerably across the state. Families with children, especially single parent families, those headed by a person lacking any post secondary schooling and immigrant families faced much more severe income inadequacy problems than each of their respective counterparts.

The study, which was prepared by Andrew Sum, Ishwar Khatiwada and Sheila Palma from CLMS, shows the number of unemployed, dislocated workers in Massachusetts more than tripled from 26,000 in 2000 to 84,000 in 2003, an increase of 226% in three years.

Other Key Findings Include:

  • During the 1990s, the growth rate of median family incomes in the Commonwealth was 3.4%, compared to 26% during the 1980s.
  • In 1999, 417,323 families or 27 percent of all Massachusetts families had income below the FESS Standard.
  • The proportion of families with incomes below the FESS Standard was lowest among those families in which no children under 18 were present in the home and was highest among single parent families with one or more children under 18
  • The 1999 overall family poverty rate of the state was 6.7% and the share of families that were low income (having an income less than 200% of the poverty threshold) was 17.1%.   Nearly one-half of all female headed families in the state were low income in 1999.
  • Growth rates of median family income in the state varied sharply across metropolitan areas, counties, and central cities and between the most affluent and least affluent cities and towns.   The net effect of these changes was to widen income disparities.
  • As a consequence of highly divergent trends in the growth rates of median family incomes in the most and least affluent cities, geographic disparities in family income widened in the 1990s.

The benefits of increased prosperity were unevenly shared, and Massachusetts became far less of a "Common Wealth" in the past decade, with personal and geographic income disparities widening. These growing geographic disparities in family incomes are associated with rising geographic disparities in the incidence of family poverty, low income challenges, and economic self-sufficiency.

Commenting on the results, Sum - Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies said, "More than one-third of all of the state's children lived in a family with a FESS income deficit in 1999, and the mean size of their families' income deficits was quite substantial. The problems cited in this report might be viewed in a more favorable light if sustained progress had been achieved in reducing the relative incidence of such problems during the 1990s. But, such was not the case. Progress came to a halt in the 1990s, and the degree of such problems has intensified in the recessionary economic environment of the early years of the current decade."

Said Mary M. Lassen, President, The Women's Union, "This report confirms what many workforce development advocates already know: too many families in Massachusetts are unable to achieve the promise of becoming economically self-sufficient and able to live, work and thrive. We must make workforce development a priority and work with governmental and business leaders to address this crisis."  

According to John J. Lipa, Chairman of the Massachusetts Workforce Board Association, an employer-led organization, "Economic self sufficiency must be addressed by the business community--not just the government.   While creating jobs is a top priority, we need to create jobs with wages that provide adequate support our families and communities--and allocate resources to improve the skills of our workers--which will improve the competitiveness of our companies."


The Workforce Solutions Group is a coalition led by The Women's Union, the Massachusetts Workforce Board Association, the Organizing and Leadership Training Center, and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO that is dedicated to improving and reforming the Massachusetts -workforce development system.   Our unique strength is that we bring together a broad range of employers, unions, education and training providers, community colleges, immigrant advocates, workforce investment boards and interfaith organizations.   These diverse groups are united by their common interest in having a strong and effective workforce development system.


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