Defining Boston’s economy in the 2010s

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 percent from the depths of the recession. 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 college degrees 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.

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.

4. The number of refugees admitted into Massachusetts has fallen – According to Boston Indicator’s analysis of US 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.

5. Home prices climbed 66 percent over the past decade – 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.

But it’s bad for the approximately two-thirds of Bostonians who are renters. “For them, 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 percent.

7. Violent crime rates in Boston have dropped – According to FBI data, incidents of violent crime in Boston fell by about 30 percent between 2009 and 2018.

This article was first published by WBUR 90.9FM on Dec. 30. WBUR and the Reporter share content though a media partnership.