Report: Massachusetts economy faces post-pandemic challenges

BOSTON (AP) — What the “new normal” of a post-pandemic economy in Massachusetts might look like is the subject of a report released Tuesday by Massachusetts Senate leaders, who argued that just returning to the pre-2020 way of doing things isn’t good enough.

The report by the Senate Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency looks at a range of possible steps the state could take to address a slew of issues, from the future of work, digital infrastructure and racial equity to housing, education, public health and transportation and commuting needs.

The release of the report comes as lawmakers weigh how best to spend approximately $5 billion in federal pandemic relief funds.

The goal of the committee was to look at key vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has revealed in the economy, according to Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka.

“We all know that things are changing. We are not going back exactly to the old normal,” Spilka said at a news conference Tuesday.

Spilka said she was particularly struck by the devastating effects that COVID-19 has had on women in the workplace.

She said the state needs to come up with more creative solutions to help strengthen the caregiving sector in Massachusetts to better support those — often women — trying to juggle work while looking after vulnerable family members.

“It’s clear to me that if we wish to have a full and equitable recovery, we must take a look at the factors that affect women’s employment at every level and in every sector,” she said.

One innovation Spilka said she would like to see is the creation of intergenerational care centers that offer child care, elder care and care for people with disabilities, sometimes in the same facility. She said the centers could act as a “front door” for overburdened family members seeking information or referrals.

Democratic Sen. Adam Hinds, who headed up the committee, said the report details other vulnerabilities, particularly in communities that fared worse throughout the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn.

Those communities often face a string of challenges, including wage stagnation and lack of affordable child care to rising housing and health care costs.

“The state’s recovery from the pandemic and our ability to build more resiliency in the face of future pandemics literally depends on our commitment to addressing growing inequality now,” Hinds said.

Some of the issues referenced in the report focus on how families can build wealth in so-called “underbanked communities,” where individuals may not have traditional bank accounts and use institutions like check cashers and payday lenders.

“How do you handle underbanked communities and the implications of intergenerational wealth transfers, and how do we try once and for all to make progress on income and wealth gaps that drive disparate health outcomes and different lifelong earnings and education attainment?” Hinds said.

Hinds said access to the internet is a key factor to improving the economic outcomes of communities.

A larger percentage of workers in communities with poorer internet access had jobs that didn’t allow them to work from home, compared with those living in wealthier communities, he said, calling equitable access to the internet a serious and necessary utility — particularly when it comes to remote work.

“If you’re earning over $100,000 a year, you’re twice as likely to have remote-friendly jobs compared to those earning less than $50,000,” he said. “Workers of color are particularly likely to be cut off from the protections and advantages of remote and hybrid work.”