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7 Trends That Defined Boston's Economy This Past Decade

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau Building Permit Survey via The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2019)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau Building Permit Survey via The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2019)

Boston's economy during the 2010s was characterized by steady growth but also persistent challenges. Using publicly available data, staff at Boston Indicators, the research center at the Boston Foundation, picked several key Boston-area economic trends that began at the turn of the decade and looked at how they unfolded during the last decade.

1. Greater Boston's Economy Recovered From The Great Recession

From 2009 to 2018, Boston's GDP (the total value of goods and services) rebounded, increasing about 27% from the depths of the recession.

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

However, the benefits of that growth have not been shared by everyone, which brings us to the next trend.

2. Real Wages Have Decreased For Many Boston Area Residents

After accounting for inflation, only Bostonians with a college degree saw meaningful wage growth over approximately the last decade. Those with lower levels of education, and even many with graduate degrees, saw declines in real wages.

"For people with less than a college degree ... they aren't seeing the benefits of that growth in terms of increases their paycheck," said Luc Schuster, director at Boston Indicators.

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey)

3. Boston Became More Racially Diverse 

Between 2009 and 2017, Greater Boston grew by nearly 250,000 people. That growth was driven by communities of color, particularly immigrants born outside the U.S.

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey)

4. The Number Of Refugees Admitted Into Massachusetts Has Fallen

According to Boston Indicator's analysis of U.S. State Department data, the Bay State welcomed 1,931 refugees in fiscal year 2010, and 516 in fiscal year 2019. That decline has been driven primarily by the Trump administration's decision to lower the cap on refugee admissions, Schuster said.

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: Refugee Processing Center, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: Refugee Processing Center, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration)

5. Home Prices Have Climbed 66% 

Over the past decade, the median value of a home in Boston increased 66%. This is "simultaneously a good story and a really troubling story," Schuster said.

It's good in that it shows people want to live here, and homeowners are building wealth. But it also speaks to the lack of housing supply in and around Greater Boston, despite the city upping efforts to permit new construction.

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau Building Permit Survey via The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2019)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau Building Permit Survey via The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2019)

But it's bad for the approximately two-thirds of Bostonians who are renters.

"For renters, when home values go up that fast, it almost always means that your rent is increasing," Schuster said.

Another consequence of rising home values has been what Schuster calls "the hollowing out of the city's middle class."

"We've seen some growth in the number of low-income families living in Boston, and that's because the city has made a real commitment to building income-restricted housing," he said. "But it's really been moderate-income people just above the cut-off for eligibility for subsidized housing who have increasingly been leaving the city of Boston" for more affordable housing options.

6. Our Commutes Got Longer

For both road and public transit commuters, the trip to work has gotten longer. Between 2007 and 2017, the average one-way commute in Greater Boston increased from 29 minutes to 31.7 minutes. Also during that period, the number of commuters whose one-way commute time was over an hour increased by 50%.

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey)

7. Violent Crime Rates In Boston Have Dropped

According to FBI data, incidents of violent crime in Boston fell by about 30% between 2009 and 2018.

(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program)
(Courtesy of Boston Indicators / Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program)

Adrian Ma Twitter Reporter
Adrian Ma is a reporter for WBUR's Bostonomix team.

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