The Changing Face Of Hunger

By Toni Waterman   |   Thursday, November 10, 2011
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Nov. 10, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Nov. 9 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — According to a Greater Boston Food Bank study, more and more people in Massachusetts are relying on assistance from food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens. The study shows that 47 percent of people in Eastern Massachusetts don't qualify for food stamps, but still need help making ends meet. And chronic unemployment is leaving a growing number of middle class families flocking to their local food pantry.

Martha, who asked that her last name not be used, is picking through a pile of half-green, half-yellow bananas. "Nice! Nice! Nice!," she exclaimed, picking up a bunch and tucking them into a bag.

Like so many Americans, it's her weekly shopping routine. But for Martha, this isn't her neighborhood grocery store. It's her neighborhood food pantry.

"I never imagined needing or wanting or relying on a food pantry for resources, but I do know it's been a lifesaver for us," she said.

Martha and her family of four were once part of the middle class. But for the past four years, she's been in and out of The Open Door food pantry in Gloucester — more often than not after her husband lost his full-time job as a graphic designer. Soon after, she lost hers as a communications consultant and the family fell from their comfortable perch in the middle class.

"We're at a point where we've really tapped out our resources and are having to dig deeper and look in some new ways to get help. Everything from how to keep our home and things like utilities and trying to get help getting oil into our tank for the winter."

Martha and her family now find themselves reliant on the generosity of others. And they're not alone. The United States Department of Agriculture says one-in-nine people in the Greater Boston area are "food insecure," meaning they don't know if they'll have enough food for their next meal.

Up in Gloucester, Julie LaFontaine stands behind a counter, "We have rice! We have pasta! Prunes — who can live without prunes?"

LaFontaine is the Executive Director of the Open Door food pantry. She says in the past two years, she's seen a 28-percent increase in the number of people walking through her door.

"Families can come once every seven days. It used to be every 14 days," says LaFontaine. "But when the economy turned south a few years ago, we stepped up to the plate to make sure families that were struggling would be able to come once a week."

She thought it would be a temporary fix, but two years later, the policy is still in place. And the need isn't unique to the Open Door. Food pantries statewide have seen a 23-percent increase in visitors too. LaFontaine says what has also changed are the demographics.

"A growing population that we've seen are people in their mid-to-late 50s. They're not ready to retire by any means, and yet they've found themselves when they thought they'd be winding up a career, actually going out and looking for a new job."

As for Martha, her husband got lucky. He recently landed a full-time job, but she says, that doesn't mean they're out of the woods yet.

"We're in the recovery stage. I'm looking for work. So we're trying to piece together from here and like so many other families, we need two incomes to survive."

Just to survive, never mind thrive.

The Middle Class Index: Is The Dream Deferred?

By WGBH News   |   Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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Nov. 9, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Nov. 8 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — Greater Boston received exclusive access to research conducted by independent think tank MassINC about whether or not Massachusetts residents believe the American Dream is still attainable.

MassINC's report indicated that as many as one in three Mass. residents feel they are in danger of falling out of the middle class. The data shows that while the American dream is still attainable by some, others are finding it increasingly difficult to do the things that have historically symbolized success in the US, including owning a home, paying for college and saving enough money for retirement.

The news isn't all bad though. Mass. does fare better than most states in some areas. More residents are covered by health insurance, more students are going to college and more are graduating with a four-year degree.

Greater Boston ventured out to hear from Mass. residents about one benchmark of the American Dream: whether they feel they are better off today than their parents were. Then, MassINC researchers explained how they came to their conclusions and dug deeper into the findings.

Arts, Culture and the Economy

By Brian McCreath   |   Wednesday, November 2, 2011
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Nov. 2

U.S. Chamber of Commerce display (source:  AP)

What motivates someone to move to or settle in New England? That’s the question posed by Scott Kirsner in a recent column in the Boston Globe (registration required).  As a piece for the Business section of the paper, it originated in Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog, and his angle is that, for the most important industries in today’s economy, Boston isn’t doing as well as it could or, apparently, should.

I’m certainly in no position to argue with Kirsner’s reading of the data when it comes to Boston’s place in the worlds of technology, retail, financial services, or defense contracting. In all of these areas Boston is, according to Kirsner, second-tier, and what’s worse is that he attributes that rank to a sense of entitlement that overshadows what’s necessary in our global economy: a need not only to retain the great talent that goes to college in New England, but also to attract that talent from elsewhere.

But here’s where I want to know more. If the ranking of a city within a particular industry, especially those on the cutting edge, is important, as Kirsner says, what else accounts for the choices of today’s most knowledgeable, skilled, and talented people?

In another of his blog entries (registration required), Kirsner scratches the surface of the answer. He tells of asking a class of Harvard undergrads what they’ll be looking for in a city as they start their careers. Sure enough, these best and brightest do, in fact, value a city more highly if it’s an epicenter in the their chosen fields.

But right there, ranked third, is “Culture” (with cost of living slotting in second). Culture is a broad term, so it’s hard to know exactly what that small sample set is really thinking of. It’s safe to say, though, that on the whole, Boston and New England hold their own culturally with any other region of the country. (OK, maybe a specific flavor of culture can be more fully experienced in San Francisco or Seattle or New York, but let’s stick with the broad averages for now.)

Broadly defined, the arts and culture economy has already proven to be a vital force in New England in its own right. According to a September 2011 report from the New England Foundation for the Arts, “every $1.00 spent by a Massachusetts nonprofit arts and cultural organization became $2.20 in sales for businesses in Massachusetts, and every job provided by a Massachusetts nonprofit arts and cultural organization became 1.6 jobs for workers across the state.”  (NEFA's report is an excellent source for a statistical deep-dive, as is the ongoing Boston Indicators Project of The Boston Foundation.)

In light of Kirsner’s Innovation thoughts, how does that economic force intersect with the recruitment of the best minds and talent for life sciences, digital marketing, green technologies, and other cutting-edge industries? It’s a question I’ll be looking into in the coming weeks, so watch this space. And in the meantime, feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below.

Can Obama's Jobs Bill Help The Long-term Unemployed?

By Toni Waterman   |   Thursday, October 6, 2011
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Oct. 6, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 4 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — Starting every morning at 5:30am, Regina Logan can be found at her small dinning room table, hunched over the newspaper looking for a job.

Logan is desperate. After leaving a cushy job in Maryland a few years ago to help one of her daughters, she's bounced around from temp job to temp job. But she's been out of work since January — and it hasn't been from a lack of trying.

"Like my license, I don't leave home without my resumes. I'm distributing them everywhere I go: To bus drivers, T-personnel, people that I see in Dunkin' Donuts, people that I see on the train going downtown, my elected officials. All of these people have it," she said.

Logan says it's a darn good resume too, loaded with years of experience as an executive secretary, plus, a recent addition: a Bachelor of Science degree from Springfield College.

"I've done all the right things up until this point, and where has it gotten me?"

It's gotten her in the same boat as millions of other Americans; educated, but long-term unemployed. It's the exact group President Obama is targeting in his $447-billion Jobs Bill, which he laid out to the joint Congress on September 8, 2011.

"Pass this jobs bill and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than 6-months looking for a job," Obama said.

It sounds like a good deal, but Medfield, Mass. business owner Thomas Erb says it just won't work. He's been in the clock-making business for 30 years, and many Electric Time clocks grace town squares across the globe.

Erb said he'd love to hire more workers, but it wouldn't be for a tax credit. It would be because he needs them.

"We look at our staffing requirements based on our sales. If you're a manufacturing organization, you know what you need for staff," said Erb. "And throwing a little money at it won't make a difference as far as hiring someone."

In fact, Erb said he's been doing the exact opposite, slashing employee overtime and cutting back on outside costs.

"We clean our own offices. We cut our own lawn. We go outside and fix the roof ourselves. We really brought a lot of these things that used to be done outside, inside, and have been able to save a fair amount of money that way."

Besides, Erb said, the one-time $4,000 tax credit offered in Obama's jobs bill is just a drop in the bucket compared to how much it costs to hire and keep an employee on the job.

"For the health insurance, it amounts to about $5 per hour per employee, which is a lot of money. It can cost up to $10,000 an employee per year," said Erb.

Robert Baker is the President of the Small Business Association of New England. He says one big thing the President's Jobs Bill doesn't address is job training.

"It takes a while to get someone skilled if you're doing fabrication or metal bending or braising. It takes training and training takes money," said Baker. "Believe it or not, employers in Massachusetts are having trouble finding skilled labor and I think training money helps them bridge that gap."

The bigger problem with the President's bill, says UMass Dartmouth Professor of Public Policy Michael Goodman, is that it doesn't address the country's and individual's overhanging debt.

"Doing something to resolve a lot of this debt that we're dealing with, not just in the public sector, but in the private sector and our households, will be necessary if we're going to return to something approximating normal," said Goodman.

Goodman said it's going to take bringing creditors and debtors together and recognizing that both parties are going to have to take some loss at some point.

"The inability to do that here in the U.S. and certainly in Europe has been prolonging this crisis," said Goodman. "And I think while a short-term stimulus is welcome and necessary, we're going to find ourselves in a similar situation a few years down the road if we don't take real action."

Not good news for Regina Logan. She said she's hoping the President's bill passes soon. In the meantime, she's going to keep on looking for a job.

"Versus nothing that's out there already, this is another opportunity. I have to stay hopeful."

Boston Has Nation's Highest Ratio Of 20-34 Year-Olds

By Jess Bidgood   |   Thursday, July 7, 2011
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Jul. 7, 2011

Young people gather on Boston Common for public re-enactment of a 1971 speech by Howard Zinn in 2007. (Mark Tribe/Flickr)

BOSTON — Boston is home to a bigger proportion of adults ages 20-34 than any other city in America.

2010 census data analyzed by Boston's Redevelopment Authority and confirmed by the U.S. Census Bureau shows 35 percent of Boston's population to be between the ages of 20 and 34. That represents an 11-percent increase from the 2000 census, which helped Boston knock previous first-place city Austin into spot number two.

Professor Alan Clayton Matthews, an economist at Northeastern University, says Boston's particularly dense, urban university presence is the biggest driving factor behind its young population. "Since these educational institutions are located right in the middle of a huge labor market, many students stay to work in Boston," Matthews said.

In a statement, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city is working hard to retain college graduates.“Boston continues to be an attractive city for this highly sought after age group,” Menino said. “With the recent successes in our Innovation District, we’re continuing to build reasons for them to stay, and to attract more.”

Matthews said the 11 percent increase in the age group's ratio is partially due to university expansion, but was significantly rooted in the city's efforts to more thoroughly count its college students during the 2010 census.

The city has long been defined by its big presence of young professionals. Matthews said Baby Boomers who flocked to Boston helped the city transform from a declining manufacturing center into a technological hub.

"Going forward, it is still the reason why reason why Massachusetts and the Boston area will probably remain one of the key technology areas in the country. It’s the ability to attrct young students and to retain many of them in the workforce after they graduate,” Matthews said.

But he says the city risks losing some younger adults to increases in the cost of living.

Fisherman: Catch-Share Sectors 'Eliminate' Some Business

By Bob Seay   |   Friday, May 6, 2011
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May 6, 2011

More than half of New England's groundfish fleet has stayed at dock this season, citing the new catch shares management system as the reason and sparking a heated political battle. (Heather Goldstone/WGBH)

BOSTON — The New England fishing industry continues to experience growing pains. For some fishing families, however, it is more like convulsions. This time last year, in an effort to sustain and replenish ground fish stocks, the national marine Fisheries Service implemented a new regulatory system called sectors.

Sectors are essentially cooperatives that pool together fishing rights based on histories of members. Marine scientists and some fishermen viewed sectors as a step above the previous system, which set limits on the days that professional anglers could be at sea.

Last Friday, we spoke with a longtime Harwich fisherman Eric Hesse, who had an overall favorable view of the new rules. "I have been able to fish in a way that is more effective for my business than under days at sea. I've been able to market my fish more effectively, choose my fishing locations and actually which species I target."

But another fisherman, Tim Barrett, views it differently. Barrett has also been fishing since the mid-1980's out of Plymouth. He spoke to WGBH's Bob Seay about the problems he says sectors are causing for his work. "The sectors from my aspect have essentially elimiated all my commercial groundfishing for the winter. I've lost about 60 percent of my gross income, due to the fact that I've been given a low allocation."

Click the player above to listen to Barrett's full interview.

About the Authors
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath

Jess Bidgood Jess Bidgood
Jess Bidgood is's news editor and producer.
Bob Seay Bob Seay
Bob Seay is the host of NPR's Morning Edition on 89.7FM WGBH Radio. He got his start in radio during college at WMUH, got involved with WGBH TV while in graduate school at Boston University and formerly hosted ME at WRNI in Rhode Island.


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