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Following the money

Local 1040s tell the story: The rich grow richer, and the poor fall further behind

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ric Kahn and Matt Carroll
Globe Staff / April 13, 2008

In Boston, the rich neighborhoods are revving forward toward even greater wealth. The poorer ones, meanwhile, are getting left in the dust.

As the tax-day deadline looms on Tuesday, an analysis of IRS data on residents' incomes broken down by ZIP code reveals a deepening divide between the city's haves and have-nots.

From 2001 through 2005, the figures show, income in 60 percent of the city's 15 wealthiest areas grew faster than the statewide average of 13 percent. At the same time, income in 80 percent of the city's most financially strapped sections grew at a slower rate than the state's average.

While the figures represent a mere snapshot of wealth showing, ZIP code by ZIP code, the average income of all who filed tax returns - whether joint or single - analysts say the numbers crunch has far-reaching implications. For as much as the disparity in dollars reflects a chasm now separating rich and poor, the analysts say, those deep pockets can produce divisions for years to come. Well-heeled parents, they say, are better able to provide their offspring with everything from private-school educations to piano lessons that can pay dividends down the road.

"The opportunities are diminishing for the poor," says Michael Jones, an assistant professor of economics at Bridgewater State College who directs that school's Project for Economic Data and Research.

Nowhere is the gap more stark than between the ZIP codes 02108 and 02121. Though only six miles separate them, the economic schism is massive. With a 52 percent boost pushing the average '05 filing figure to $429,103, the 02108 of Beacon Hill/Central Boston is the second-most affluent locale in Massachusetts, behind only Weston's $531,374. Meanwhile, after inching up 3.9 percent to $26,412, the 02121 of Roxbury/Dorchester/Grove Hall is the fifth-most impoverished sector in the state.

Jorge Martinez, executive director of a Grove Hall group, Project R.I.G.H.T., says economic hardships are weakening poor families and their communities.

"Everyone I come across is stretched very thin," Martinez says. "If we don't have the time and energy and tools to deal with issues of inequities in city services, education, health, we become stuck on this treadmill, running around like gerbils. Sooner or later, there's a breakdown."

The 02111 of Chinatown-Tufts/Central Boston holds both the upscale and the needy within its ZIP code borders. The addition of Leather District lofts and high-rises such as Millennium Place into the traditional Chinatown enclave helped push 02111's income up to $167,960 in '05, an 86.6 percent gain that's the second-highest in the state, behind Newton 02465's 112.1.

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