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The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Misdiagnosing Massachusetts

Massachusetts is losing residents. Between July 2004 and July 2005, the net loss for the state was 8,600 people, which represents a population decline of 0.1 percent. This continues a trend: Over a 12-year period (1990-2002), when you subtract the number of arrivals in Massachusetts from the number of departures, the end product is 213,000. Why is this happening?

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe blames the state's politics. "I suspect that fewer and fewer people want to call Massachusetts home not because of its oppressive winters but because of its oppressive and demoralizing political culture," he claims. Among such political oppression: "A state legislature that stays in session year-round? A supreme court that turns same-sex marriage into a constitutional right? Public 'authorities' that answer to no one? In most of America, no way. In Massachusetts, no problem," Jacoby writes.

Like any good debater, Jacoby considers the counterarguments. "Yes, overpriced real estate and a high cost of living are serious issues in Massachusetts," he acknowledges. "But they are serious issues in California, Florida, Hawaii, and New Jersey, too, yet none of them is losing population."

The trouble is that the liberalism Jacoby loathes here is equally present in the four alternative states he lists. Does he really think that the Supreme Judicial Court is more liberal than, say, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who briefly allowed same-sex marriage in his city? Does he think that immigration in Massachusetts -- "On Beacon Hill last week, the big issue for Massachusetts lawmakers was whether tuition should be reduced for illegal aliens at the state's public colleges," he writes -- is any more of an issue than immigration in Florida? And while Jacoby decries the Democratic dominance in the Bay State, symbolized by Senator Ted Kennedy, he omits to mention that Democrats are equally represented among the senators or former senators of California (Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein), Florida (Bob Graham), Hawaii (Daniel Akaka, Daniel Inouye), and New Jersey (Bob Corzine, Frank Lautenberg).

Jacoby is wrong. It is the high cost of living in Massachusetts that is forcing people out. Just look at the real-estate prices. A Coldwell Banker report surveyed 300 cities across the United States to gauge the value of "a 2,200-square-foot house with 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, a family room and a two-car garage" in a neighborhood that is "typical for corporate middle-management transferees." Only two states had cities with prices above $1 million: California and Massachusetts.

This is a serious problem. Coupled with the demise of rent control, high prices for apartments and homes are making it hard for people to find affordable housing. It makes sense to migrate to a red state because you can buy a car and rent an apartment in Arkansas for the same amount that it would cost you to rent an apartment in Boston, Cambridge or Brookline.

The large number of colleges and universities in this state only adds to the number of people competing for jobs each year. As people marry and have children, it becomes even more sensible, financially, to move someplace cheaper. Having an inexpensive apartment or house is, of course, an asset during a layoff or downsizing.

Issues like gay marriage or Kennedy's stance on Samuel Alito don't directly affect the majority of Massachusetts residents. But housing is, and its cost is rising beyond the reach of many people in this state. Until someone solves this problem, Jacoby's argument makes no sense.


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