The COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on Greater Boston’s economy, workers, travel patterns, and more. At a virtual State House briefing on Tuesday, May 12, staff from MAPC presented research on the “Future of Work” in the region—including data and research on wage polarization, unequal opportunity, industry shifts, and travel behavior—and how that research can inform strategies for an equitable economic recovery.
With the upcoming infusion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, legislators and municipalities in Massachusetts have an opportunity to strategically use these resources to ensure the economic recovery dismantles inequities and addresses ongoing challenges related to housing, climate, transportation, digital access, and health.
“We can’t let the pandemic, and the uncertainty around it, delay any of the actions that we know are right to make a more equitable society,” said Senator Brendan Crighton. “Think of housing and transportation and the environment: prior to the pandemic we had made commitments to act on these...we can’t afford to wait.”
“We are going to be the recipients of a transformative, once in a generation investment in our infrastructure. This is our chance to get it right on the economic recovery,” said Representative Joan Meschino. “We have a real opportunity not just to think about how to get federal dollars down to our Main Street economics—the economic recovery—we also have the ability to think about these things relative to...the green economy.”
An understanding of pre-pandemic and mid-pandemic data trends helped MAPC craft policy recommendations that respond to worker and regional needs. MAPC Senior Research Analyst Sarah Philbrick gave an overview of the impact of COVID-19 on workers, pre-pandemic trends to watch, and the future of important industries in Greater Boston.
The data shows that the pandemic has only exacerbated existing inequities, especially by race and income level. The pandemic had the greatest effect on the lowest-paid jobs: the employment rate for jobs paying less than $27,000 per year decreased by 50%. Before the pandemic, unemployment rates were higher and educational attainment was lower for BIPOC people, trends made worse during the COVID-19 crisis. Workers of color are disproportionately represented in unemployment claims, and aren’t going back to work as quickly as White workers. The disparate impact extends to education, too: 2020 FAFSA completion rates were down by 25% compared to 2019 in Massachusetts high schools enrolling the most low-income students of color; compared to 18% overall.
In 2040, BIPOC residents will make up 40% of the region’s workforce. It’s a disservice to these communities – and to the health of our economy – to let existing disparities by race to continue.
Industries to pay attention to for the future include Massachusetts’ innovation economy, care workers, and higher education industry. As we plan our recovery, we should be thinking about what kind of work we want to encourage, what jobs may be automated, and how changes in commuting patterns could change how workers operate.
Faced with the inequities laid bare by the pandemic, said MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen, “It’s important to craft legislation, to craft priorities for the expenditure of ARPA money and hopefully infrastructure money, that will focus on redressing some of the inequities and change some of things that we’re dissatisfied with in our society.”
Priorities for an Equitable and Resilient Economic Recovery
With these data trends in mind, MAPC has identified three major priorities to address the short-term challenges brought on by the pandemic and to catalyze long-term change.
- Improve and expand workforce development and small business support
- Align economic recovery with our climate, housing, and transportation goals
- Improve connectivity and access and build both digital and public health infrastructure
These priorities are baked into our Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the region, and in our policy recommendations for MetroCommon 2050, a 30-year plan to achieve the region's goals for equity, jobs, housing, transportation, climate, and more. MAPC has drafted recommendations in 18 policy areas, and now we’re looking for feedback! Take the survey today to read through recommendations in your area of interest and indicate whether they sound right for the region, whether they can use some tweaking, and whether there’s anything that should be added.
Take the survey: http://mapc.ma/PolicyFeedback