• Debt, Economic Anxiety, and the Middle Class: Conversations from CW
  • Complete archives from 12 years of Conversations in CW magazine

From CW magazine

The 10 political regions of Massachusetts

Mass. links

  • Walking the Berkshires
  • The Eisenthal Report (notes from central Mass.)
  • Talking Politics (David Bernstein)
  • Politicker MA | Inside Politics for Political Insiders
  • Peter Porcupine (Cape Cod conservative)
  • New England First Amendment Center Home Page
  • MetroBoston DataCommon
  • Media Nation (Dan Kennedy)
  • Imagine Election for Massachusetts Voters
  • Don't Quote Me (Adam Reilly)
  • Dispatches from Seth Gitell
  • Blue Mass. Group: Reality-based commentary

In the media

  • BRUCE MOHL on tax credits for the film industry

*Robert David Sullivan

October 23, 2008

Worcester Polytech weighs heavier than Harvard

Following up on my earlier post on the financial burdens of college graduates, I should point out that the Project on Student Debt also has detailed data for individual colleges, public and private, in each state. A few highlights for Massachusetts:

The most indebted students in the Bay State were from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where graduates in 2007 owed an average of $37,784 in student loans (up from $34,409 the year before). The annual tuition in 2006-07 was $33,318.

The other institutions with average student debts exceeding $30,000 (counting only those students who had debts) were Assumption College, Atlantic Union College, Becker College, Bentley College, Emerson College, Pine Manor College, and the Wentworth Institute of Technology. But only 56 percent of Emerson College graduates had any loans to repay; in the other schools, at least 63 percent of the students had debts (putting them at or above the state average).

The lowest average debt was at Hellenic College ($7,300). The only other schools below $10,000 were Harvard University, Newbury College, and Williams College. The Project for Student Debt notes that Harvard and Williams "have financial aid packages that are specifically intended to minimize student debt, especially for students from low- and middle-income backgrounds."

Student loan debt rises faster than salaries for graduates

The average debt of students graduating from American colleges with loans was $20,098 in 2007, up 6 percent from the previous year's class, according to a new report from the Project on Student Debt. (PDF of full report here.) At the same time, the average income for 18- to 24-year-olds with bachelor's degrees rose by only 3 percent.

So if student loan repayments eat up a bigger share of a young adult's income, does that mean less money for things like housing? And does that mean young adults will be less likely to settle in states with high costs of living -- like Massachusetts?

The report ranks Massachusetts 19th in the average debt of its graduating students ($21,090), with one of the biggest jumps in the nation between 2006 and 2007 (up 11 percent, or almost double the national rate). The Bay State is 21st in the percentage of all graduates who have student loan debt (63 percent).

The states with the highest average debts were Iowa ($26,208), New Hampshire ($25,211), and Alaska ($24,970). The lowest average debts were in Utah ($13,266), Hawaii ($14,911), and New Mexico ($15,784). According to the report:

New England states are disproportionately represented among the "high debt" states while those in the Far West region are disproportionately represented among the "low debt" states. This may be related to the fact that New England states tend to have more students than average attending private colleges, and higher than average tuition for both public and private colleges, while western states tend to have more students attending public colleges and lower than average tuition at public colleges.

See data on individual schools here.

October 22, 2008

Massachusetts ranks 39th in government employees per capita

The Census Bureau today released its every-5-year tabulation of state and local government workers, and the Bay State is on the low end of the workforce scale. (The Census Bureau's press release is typically horrible in terms of providing links to complete data; go here to get your stats.)

In 2007, Massachusetts had the equivalent of 332,957 full-time people working for state and local government (299,320 full-time employees and 92,864 part-timers.) That added up to 516 employees for every 10,000 people living in the state, or well below most states. The main reason for our low ranking seemed to be our reliance on the private sector for "eds and meds," or educational degrees and medical treatment. Only 3 percent of our public employees worked in hospitals (compared with 6 percent nationwide), and 9 percent worked in higher education (compared with 12 percent nationwide). We also had a relatively light number of people working in corrections and prison departments (2.6 percent of all public workers vs. 4.5 percent nationwide). Compared with other states, a larger proportion of our workforce were employed in elementary and secondary schools, police departments, and fire departments.

Continue reading "Massachusetts ranks 39th in government employees per capita" »

October 21, 2008

Imagine who you can vote for...

A new Bay State website called Imagine Election lets you type in your address to see who will be appearing on your ballot on November 4, and then find out a little something about each candidate's background and "priorities if elected." Visit the site to find out whether you're one of the lucky ducks with a contested race for state legislator this year.

Continue reading "Imagine who you can vote for..." »

October 15, 2008

Plymouth movie studio gets generous treatment

The Patriot Ledger's Tamara Race reports that town officials in Plymouth are recommending a 75 percent property tax break for a 240-acre movie studio to be built off Route 3. Town meeting voters would have to approve the deal for Plymouth Rock Studios on October 27. As Race explains:

Based on a $388 million initial construction cost, the studio would generate nearly $4 million in property taxes without the break.

That drops to about $1 million with the tax break.

Hotel room taxes, excise taxes and property taxes on homes planned within the production studio complex would add $500,000 in tax revenue.

Denis Hanks, the town’s director of economic development, says the tax break is justified given the 2,000 jobs and long-term tax benefit the studio would bring to Plymouth.

CommonWealth magazine reported on the costly chase for film industry jobs in Massachusetts in our Spring issue. Also see yesterday's post on how other states are having second thoughts about their star-gazing.

October 10, 2008

Wait 'till your mother leaves home

There are almost as many women as men trying to get through the morning rush hour, but men generally spend more time at it. Newly released Census data, based on surveys taken last year, showed that 58 percent of Bay State commuters who customarily left the house between 6 and 7:30 a.m. were men, but 57 percent who left between 7:30 and 9 a.m. were women. (The total number of commuters for each time period was just over a million.)

In what is essentially another verse of the same song, the Census Bureau also reported that 55 percent of Massachusetts workers with commutes of less than 10 minutes were women, but 59 percent of those who took at least an hour to get to work are men.

Note: This item will appear in the Fall 2008 issue of CommonWealth magazine, published on October 21.

October 09, 2008

Skin problems? Consider moving to Pittsfield

This week the Massachusetts Medical Society warned of a "critically short supply" of primary care physicians in the Bay State, along with "severe labor market conditions" in 12 specialties. The high costs of setting up a practice and "the fear of being sued" are cited as reasons for the growing shortage of medical professionals.

The shortage may affect just about everyone from head to toe:

The Medical Society’s expanded analysis for 2008 found 12 of 18 specialties studied to be in short supply. Three specialties -- oncology, neurology, and dermatology – examined for the first time in this year's study, were declared in shortages for the first time. The other nine seeing shortages are emergency medicine, general surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedics, psychiatry, urology, vascular surgery, internal medicine, and family medicine. Oncology, neurology, and dermatology were included in the study for the first time this year, and urology was added last year.

Physician recruitment rates have been following in all but one part of the state, and the Berkshire Eagle's Jack Dew reports on the exception:

Continue reading "Skin problems? Consider moving to Pittsfield" »

October 08, 2008

Treasurer Tim makes the New York Times

A Times editorial cites Massachusetts (along with California) as a state that may be in particular jeopardy because of the Wall Street meltdown because we "rely on short-term financing to help pay [our] bills." One of our state leaders has a suggestion:

The state treasurer of Massachusetts, Timothy Cahill, has asked the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the United States Treasury to consider lending to the state on the same emergency terms being offered to the financial sector.

October 07, 2008

Mass. not so bad on income tax, horrible for corporate tax

The Tax Foundation's just released 2009 State Business Tax Climate Index ranks Massachusetts as the 32nd most business-friendly state, well below neighboring New Hampshire at No. 9 but considerably higher than neighboring New York at No. 49. In general, the Tax Foundation likes sparsely populated states (like top ranked Wyoming), turns up its nose at states with public transit and other pesky government services.

In subcatgories, Massachusetts ranked 9th for its sales tax (relatively low, with a lot of exemptions) and 16th for its income tax (or 9th among the 43 states that have income taxes for individuals, thanks to a relatively low rate and a simple, two-bracket structure). But the Bay State was 43rd for property tax burden, 47th for corporate taxes, and 49th for unemployment insurance taxes.

October 06, 2008

Obama voters against the state income tax?

A proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax is back on the ballot this year, after losing 40 percent to 48 percent, with 12 percent of voters blanking on the question, six years ago. That vote coincided with a gubernatorial election in which Republican Mitt Romney did not endorse the measure but ran a “tough on taxes” campaign against Democrat Shannon O’Brien. Statewide, Romney ran 9 points ahead of the Libertarian Party’s bid to end the income tax, but in many affluent suburbs such as Hingham and Wellesley, the anti-tax measure ran more than 20 points behind the winning anti-tax candidate. If the Libertarians are to prevail this year, they need a lot more votes in Republican-leaning towns.


Continue reading "Obama voters against the state income tax?" »

October 01, 2008

Massachusetts ranks dead last in contested elections

Massachusetts, once known for its raucous politics, now ranks last in the nation in the percentage of voters with a choice as to who represents them in the State House. (Click here for data.) There are both Democratic and Republican candidates in only 27 28 of 160 state representative districts this year. (With contests in five seven of 40 Senate seats, we also have the lowest contested rate among the 15 states where the entire upper chamber is up for election.) NOTE: Two Republican candidates for Senate and one Democratic candidate for the House were added to the secretary of state's candidate list since the September primary. The new list includes candidates who won nomination through write-in or sticker campaigns. Even with the higher numbers, Massachusetts ranks last in competitiveness in both the Senate and House.

The 17 percent contested rate in the House is not only below the 21 percent in runner-up Georgia, it’s down from the 26 percent that the Bay State logged two years ago — and far below the 51 percent in 2004, when then-Gov. Mitt Romney made an unsuccessful attempt to increase the number of Republicans in the Legislature.


What determines whether a state has contested elections? As the map above shows (click it to enlarge), term limits don’t seem to be a deciding factor, since they haven’t brought about contested races in Arkansas and haven’t been necessary for a 100 percent contested rate in Minnesota. States in which one party controls the House by only a handful of votes (such as Michigan and Montana) generally have more spirited elections, but Pennsylvania has a mostly empty ballot even though its House is now split 102-101 in favor of the Democrats, and Utah has a nearly full slate despite the GOP’s 55-20 advantage there. (With a 7-to-1 advantage for the Democrats, the Massachusetts House is the most lopsided in the nation.)

Voter interest in one election may attract more candidates in the next: Minnesota and South Dakota were the only states in which more than 60 percent of the eligible population voted in 2006, and they have the highest contested rates for 2008. Arkansas and Georgia, meanwhile, had comparatively poor turnouts in 2006 and have few candidates this year. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is a glaring exception to this rule, as its high turnout in 2006 (55 percent vs. the national average of 48 percent) evidently didn’t encourage that many people to run for office this time around.

Below: John Cleese votes in Massachusetts.

Cleese: It's not much of a election, is it?

Palin: Finest in the country!

Cleese: (annoyed) Explain the logic underlying that conclusion, please.

Palin: Well, it's so clean, sir!

Cleese: It's certainly uncontaminated by candidates....

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