Women in Massachusetts are better educated than men but still earn less, Black residents lag far behind white residents in most measures of wellness — a gap that has gotten worse since 2005 — and Asian residents in the state generally are doing about as well as white people.
Those findings are according to data released Thursday by the Cambridge-based American Academy of Arts and Sciences, part of a new way to evaluate the nation's economic success collected by the academy's Commission on Reimagining our Economy, or CORE.
Katherine Newman, a member of the commission, told GBH News that the county-level data goes beyond purely economic metrics that have traditionally been used to measure the U.S. economy.
“We have for many, many decades focused on particular metrics that don't really measure how Americans feel about their security or the extent to which they experience economic security,” she said.
Newman, now the provost at the University of California, says part of the power of the CORE Score metric is that the data drills down to the county level. “Most of the metrics we look at are national metrics — national unemployment metrics, for example,” she said. “But there are huge variations that really impact people because people don't live in the nation. They live in a place.”
The academy describes its new datasetas a “wellbeing” score, though it takes in more than health and wealth. The score is made up of 11 different datasets across four categories: economic security (including household spending power and housing costs); economic opportunity (including education and wage growth); health (defined by life expectancy and health insurance coverage); and political voice (measuring voter turnout and civic engagement).
“Wellness has to do with how people feel about their lives, frankly, if they see opportunities for themselves, if they see their current situation as positive, if they feel that they have impact on their community,” said David Oxtoby, the academy’s president. “If they feel that there are possibilities for them in life, that to me is at the center of wellness.”
Using these metrics, Massachusetts has among the highest wellbeing scores in the nation, at 5.93 on a scale of 1-10. No state has a score higher than 6.
But inside that score, the data drills down into regional and demographic differences. The wellbeing score on Cape Cod is 5.98, for example; in Hampden County, which covers Springfield, the score is only 4.25.
And while white and Asian populations in Massachusetts have wellbeing scores over 6, the Hispanic wellbeing score is 5.52 and the Black score is only 5.1. These differences are largely the result of lower education and wage growth for the state’s communities of color. GBH News has previously reported that there are vast disparities in the wealth of local Asian populations that tend to be masked in data showing Asian success.
Of course, like any data-led analysis, the CORE Score metric is limited by the data points the commission chose to include or exclude. So while the dataset includes measures of political engagement and housing costs, it does not include other quality-of-life measures like incarceration rates or access to quality public schools.
Oxtoby said part of the purpose of the CORE Score is to allow people to compare communities across the state and investigate why they may be doing better or worse than the county next door. “We’d like to maybe get a little competitive spirit in this,” he said.
The commission has largely not drawn specific state-level conclusions from the data, but the academy also released a new report Thursday with a series of recommendations to broadly improve wellbeing nationwide. Some of them are fairly simple, like eliminating licensing requirements for non-health and safety careers like hair stylists. Others, such as redesigning the way family income is calculated for the purpose of qualifying for social service programs, would be more involved.
And some of the academy’s proposals are specifically targeted at repairing the effects of past discrimination. The report suggests extending federal GI Bill housing and education benefits to the families of Black World War II veterans who were in many cases excluded from the program when it was launched in the 1940s. The commission also proposes significant investments in helping strengthen the governing apparatuses — such as courts and administrative agencies — of Native American tribes, to help them achieve more independent authority.
The commission behind the new metric and report will soon stop meeting after working on the project for two years. Oxtoby said the plan is to keep updating the data so that, over time, it can become a go-to reference for evaluating economic and social progress.
Editor's note: One of the co-chairs of the Commission on Reimagining our Economy is Ann Fudge, who is also chair of the GBH Board of Trustees.