Illustrations by Travis Foster

big employers still hold sway in bay state

Politicians in Massachusetts often refer to the economic importance of smaller employers (for instance, in her speech on the night of the September primary, GOP gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey worried about burdens on “the small businesses that create half the jobs” here), but large workforces are actually more common here than in most states. According to the latest edition of the US Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns, based on 2004 data, 22.7 percent of all Bay State workers were employed by firms with more than 500 people, compared with 20.1 percent nationally and 14.8 percent in New Hampshire. Even Michigan and West Virginia, not commonly associated with the New Economy, ranked below us in their dependence on large employers (“dinosaurs”?), while Nevada and New York joined us among states most dependent on them.

“Computer and electronic product manufacturing” was among the sectors most skewed toward large employers: Nearly half of the 63,000 people in this industry were in workforces of more than 500. At the other end of the spectrum, the folks fighting Question 1 (which would have allowed supermarket chains to sell wine) last fall apparently weren’t kidding about representing small businesses. As of 2004, according to the Census Bureau, 73.8 percent of the 8,700 people with jobs at Bay State beer, wine, and liquor stores had fewer than 20 co-workers. But only 12.0 percent of the 77,000 people working at grocery stores could say the same.

time to make fewer doughnuts

Also on the job front, the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Manufactures showed that manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts continued to slide in 2005, going from 302,530 to 295,033. Categories with the biggest drops (a loss of more than 1,000 jobs each) included “bakeries and tortilla manufacturing,” textile mills, foundries, and medical equipment and supplies. There were slight gains in seafood product packaging, leather manufacturing, and communications equipment.

the results aren’t in

The state’s official Web site got a makeover last fall, but Massachusetts is still arguably the worst in the nation in providing election data online. As of December 15, Maine and Massachusetts were the only two states that still hadn’t posted detailed results from the previous month’s elections. There were county-by-county results for the previous gubernatorial election (in 2002) on the Web pages maintained by Secretary of State Bill Galvin, but even that data was pretty skimpy by comparison with other states. Twenty-five states, including the rest of New England, now provide election results below the county level—by city and town, and even by precinct (5,305 of them in Michigan). Because it has only 14 counties, Massachusetts offers data for fewer voting districts than does any other state Web site in the nation. To cap things off, the presentation of that data is especially difficult to read. Vote tallies for each candidate for governor in 2002 are not side-by-side; in order to see who won where, it’s necessary to print out separate pages and line them up by hand.

living on the edge

According to Foreclosures, foreclosure filings against Massachusetts homeowners were up 54 percent during the first nine months of 2006, compared with the same period in 2005. The increase was sharpest in the western and central regions of the state, with Athol, Fitchburg, and Springfield logging more than 40 foreclosures per 10,000 people. In contrast, high-income suburbs of Boston, such as Belmont, Lincoln, and Wellesley, showed no change, with six or fewer foreclosures per 10,000 people.

In what could be another sign of shaky personal finances in Springfield, the city now has 16 licensed check cashers, compared with seven in similarly sized Worcester and only 24 in Boston (which has nearly four times the population).

winning by staying in place

With last fall’s elections bringing new senators and congressmen in Connecticut and Rhode Island, among other states, Massachusetts has risen to seventh place in going the longest without any change to our congressional delegation. (Our newest member, US Rep. Steve Lynch, was elected on 9/11/01.) Only those dynamic and diverse states of Delaware, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wyoming have gone longer. Among US senators, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have logged a combined 66 years of service so far, second only to the 70 years for West Virginia’s Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller. But we have a while to go to reach the 74 years of Senate seniority enjoyed by South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings as of 2002—both of whom retired over the next two years, leaving the Palmetto State to start all over again in amassing political clout.

The average age of our entire congressional delegation will hit 60 later this year—older than most, but actually about the same as in “growth” states such as Georgia and Virginia. Meanwhile, Rhode Island now has the second-youngest delegation in the US, with an average age of 47 (thanks in large part to 39-year-old Rep. Patrick Kennedy).

sociable sprawl?

Compared with city dwellers, suburbanites are more involved in civic organizations and have more contacts with their neighbors, according to a new study from the University of California–Irvine. With every 10 percent drop in density, residents are 10 percent more likely to talk to a neighbor at least once a week, and they’re 15 percent more likely to join a “hobby-oriented club.” The conclusions were based on 15,000 responses to the Social Capital Benchmark Survey, with data controlled for income, educational attainment, marital status, and the length of time each respondent had been living at his or her address.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” writes Jan Brueckner, a UCI economics professor and lead author of the study. “This contradicts one of the common social and economic arguments against urban sprawl.” Why would this be so? “One possibility is that dense environments offer residents more sources of entertainment (museums, theaters, etc.), lessening the need to interact with others in the pursuit of stimulation,” Brueckner speculates. “Another possibility is that high densities may be associated with criminal activity, making people suspicious of one another and reluctant to interact.”