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So, Massachusetts won’t lose another seat in Congress after all according to the topline results of the 2020 Census – at least for the next decade, that is. 

Wow, how incredibly amazing. My apologies for not breaking out in song or popping the cork on the champagne. 

The population of Massachusetts now tops 7 million after growing 7.4 percent over the past decade, mirroring the national average. 

The upshot? The Bay State managed to add enough people to avoid losing yet another member of its shrunken delegation in Washington to the fast-growing – and mostly deep red – Sun Belt. 

We’ll keep all nine seats, instead of losing one, like we did after the 2010 census.  

I’d classify that as a dodging a bullet, not a monumental victory. Rather, it’s a brief pause on a trajectory of diminishing political pull that is only headed down unless we can rein in the high cost and high hassle of living in Greater Boston, with runaway housing prices and trafficclogged roads leading the list of reasons to leave 

Massachusetts had almost double the number of representatives in Washington, D.C. a century ago, at 16. While that margin eroded over the next halfcentury, our state still had a 12-member delegation as late as 1970. 

That put us on par, in terms of political pull, with Florida, which had 15 seats then, and ahead of North Carolina. 

Today, Florida has 28 seats in Congress and North Carolina has 14.  

At least in our level of representation, with nine seats in Congress, we are dead even with Tennessee. 

Missed Opportunity 

Some of this shift in political power away from Massachusetts – and the Northeast – to the Sun Belt was going to happen anyway, whatever we did. 

The arrival of relatively affordable air conditioning in the 1950s paved the way for big population explosions in states like Florida and Arizona. 

Weak unions and lower wages in the South have been a draw for New England companies for over a century, starting with the decline of the once mighty local textile industry in Lawrence, Lowell and Fall River starting in the early 1900s. 

It’s a pattern that has only intensified through the 1960s and ’70s as manufacturers of everything from cars to widgets have chosen to move to sunnier climes. 

But with the shift in recent decades economy dominated by manufacturing to one where technology and information are dominant, the Massachusetts economy has made a big comeback from the mid-1980s on. 

Today we are one of the world’s top hubs for biotech and medical research, and a major center for technology as well. 

Yet while our economy has boomed, our infrastructure has failed to keep up, limiting our population growth. 

Thanks to stifling local zoning laws, new home construction has fallen steadily and steeply since the 1980s, helping to drive up real estate prices to ever more unaffordable levels. And with the exception of the Big Dig, our highways, byways and bridges are crumbling, while our public transportation systemsuffering from the effects of decades of underinvestment, has become a sick joke. 

Even as our biotech and tech companies attract a steady stream of higherpaid professionals from other states, we are losing middleclass families to New Hampshire and other lowercost locations. 

Yes, the Bay State’s population grew by over 7 percent over the course of the 2010s, but that was no more than the national average. 

A little less growth, and we could have easily lost a seat in Congress, as happened with California, which had population growth of just over 6 percent during the same time period. 

There’s Trouble Ahead 

As we head into the 2020s, two major trends do not bode well for preserving the Bay State’s diminishing political clout amid the relentless growth of the Sun Belt, home now to 62 percent of the country. 

First: Home prices, jolted by the pandemic-inspired scramble for real estate, are rising by double digitsIt’s a pace not seen since the housing bubble of the mid-2000s. 

That’s on top of the already substantial growth in real estate values over the past seven or eight years in the wake of the Great Recession. 

Scott Van Voorhis

Second: The pandemic is likely to lead to a long-term shift towards remote work, and the ability to take a job anywhere without ever having to move. 

We are already seeing the impact across the country, as professionals of all stripes ditch the big city for less expensive and more bucolic surroundings in Vermont and other previously impractical locations. 

While Greater Boston is a great place to live, it is also extremely expensive compared to just about anywhere else but California. 

Given the choice, some professionals who would have otherwise been forced to sell larger homes in less expensive markets in order to pay more for smaller digs in the Boston will instead opt to stay put. 

If Massachusetts truly wants to reverse its long  slide in political power, we will need to find a way to make our state affordable and livable again for middle– and working-class families and voters. 

That will take both sweeping reforms to zoning laws, and a whole lot of money for transportation, both repairing roads and bridges and making the MBTA a real – and dependable  option for commuters. 

Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at   

Massachusetts’ Growth Rate Shows We’re Not on a Winning Track

by Scott Van Voorhis time to read: 4 min