Wealth, Poverty, and Jobs in Cambridge

Wealth, Poverty, and Jobs in Cambridge

  • Posted on: 2 September 2011
  • By: stannenb

At this week's inaugural City Council candidate forum, some candidates bemoaned the loss of the middle class in Cambridge as well as the loss of Cambridge jobs for Cambridge residents. These are themes that are often heard. But are those points true? Census data, compiled by the Cambridge Community Development Department, paints a complex picture.

Cambridge is a wealthy community where household income growth outpaced that of the United States as a whole.

Over the last 30 years, median household income in Cambridge has nearly doubled while the country's has remained relatively flat. In the last decade, where the country has experienced a decrease, Cambridge's growth has continued unabated.

While Cambridge has grown increasingly wealthy, poverty, after declining in 1990, has returned to 1980 levels. Fifteen percent of Cambridge's residents live below the poverty line.

Has the middle class left Cambridge? Not noticeably.

While the data show slight changes, the way the Census collects these data changed over this time period and the changes shown are well within the variations one might see from those changes.

Cambridge's workforce - those classified as potential workers - has grown over the past forty years, and labor force participation - those with jobs or seeking jobs has increased from 60% to 70%.

But what about Cambridge jobs for Cambridge residents?

The number of Cambridge residents employed in Cambridge has increased 25% over the last 40 years:

But, the percentage of working Cambridge residents whose jobs are in Cambridge has dropped:

A note about data and sources: Most of these data are derived from Cambridge Community Development's excellent Statistical Profile of Cambridge. Those wishing to use the data presented here would find reading the caveats and explanations in that report useful. Census methods are complex, and deriving big picture numbers are not straightforward.


This is very interesting. Thanks for putting it together.

Very interesting, I wonder if you could look at the breakdown of age cohorts within these income groups. My suspicion is that the sense that Cambridge has lost the middle class is more about the exodus of families with children earning a middle class wage. I wonder if many of the people earning a moderate income today in Cambridge are young professionals in their late 20's/early 30's and so don't really fit that classic definition of the "middle class."

The data certainly show that average family size has declined and the number of people not living in households has increased, all of which support your line of reasoning. I'm continuing to look at the data, and if I can pull together a coherent picture, I'll follow up. Thanks for the comment.

I also find this data and discussion very interesting, especially as I have just recently become a member of the neighborhood group while trying to find a place to live in Cambridge (where I attended high school in the 80s and my parents still live), and have had the strong impression lately of the presence of a kind of affluence that is transiently local and is encouraged by a semi-guilty balancing acts of generous city funding for "low-income housing" and the like.
House hunting shows very quickly that there is little reason for most landowners to rent out to families, not when there are so many "young professionals" and students with plenty of cash in hand.
In any case, "middle class" is starting to seem even fuzzier than it used to...
Thanks, Seth Yarden

There are fewer and fewer residences among the older housing stock and the newly built that have more than 2 bedrooms, thereby, shutting out families with more than one child. The larger houses that had 3 or 4 bedrooms are now condo associations with two or three condos with, obviously, fewer bedrooms. Some of these condos are rented by the owner but are certainly not in the "affordable" price range for low-income or low-middle-income families. I don't have the numbers at hand, but a large number of CHA rental units are closed and awaiting rehab. One will be on-line soon on Harvard St., but up in the large CHA complex off Rindge Avenue there are a large number of closed units. There is also a growing segment of people over 65 living alone in Cambridge. In some cases, these people own their home in which they raised their families, but now live alone in that house. This data does exist somewhere in the city files, but I'm too tired this evening to go searching. The voter registration list provides some of that data, but only for those who are registered to vote, alas.

It would be great to understand how 'Very Low', 'Low', 'Moderate' and 'Higher' incomes are defined. What are the dollar ranges they are using for these categories?

Erik Williams

Here are the footnotes from the original document. I have not gone back to the original data to reverse engineer the actual dollar amounts.

1. These figures are based upon a census tract level analysis of Census information performed for HUD using data either from the decennial census or the American Community Survey (2005 - 2007). Income levels are based upon the median income for the Boston MA-NH PMSA, as calculated by HUD for the purposes of managing affordable housing programs. Adjustment is made for average household size in the census tract. Only persons living in households are evaluated for income level; no group quarters occupants are evaluated.
2. Very low income as defined as less than 30% of the area median income
3. Low Income is defined as greater than 30% up to 50% of area median income.
4. Moderate Income is defined as greater than 50% up to 80% of area median income.
5. For the purposes of this chart, higher income is defined as 80% or greater of the area median income.

Thank you for writing this important article.