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The Pocket Change: Creating a Somerville that Works for All Initiative

Somerville received a $100,000 seed award for its Pocket Change: Creating a Somerville that Works for All Initiative, which aims to reduce high unemployment among low-income youth. The model will blend micro-jobs, soft skill training, internships, and hard skill training into a seamless system to build work experience and information about job candidates. These opportunities will be publicized and coordinated via a mobile or online application that will also track participant progress and feedback from participating employers. The initiative is being led by the City of Somerville, in partnership with
several cross-sector task forces.

The Pocket Change Initiative provides participating youth with an opportunity for job progression based on performance. The initiative aims to reduce unemployment for low-income youth in Somerville by 10 percent over 10 years, and is planned and implemented under the guidance of both employers and youth from Somerville’s community. The initiative is a pilot for the citywide “Jobs Trust” proposed by Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, which will create a permanent system for funding job training through linkage funds from developers of large commercial spaces.  


map of massachusetts showing somerville


Initiative Partners

Bent Electrical Contractors, Cambridge Health Alliance, Century Bank, Greentown Labs, Massachusetts Workforce Alliance (MWA),
Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences,
Somerville Chamber of Commerce, Taza Chocolate,
The Career Place (TCP), The Holiday Inn – Somerville,
The Somerville Community Corporation (SCC), Tufts University,
and Wedgewood-Crane & Connolly

Learn about Somerville

At roughly the same time, two external factors boosted the efforts of city officials and residents to spur Somerville's resurgence: 1) the subway line extension from Harvard Square through Somerville to the Fresh Pond area, and 2) rapid increases in Harvard Square real estate prices. The city has also benefited from proximity to Harvard University and Tufts University. Although the city has faced challenges such as assimilating its high percentage of foreign-born residents and making aging infrastructure compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Somerville has tackled numerous obstacles with innovative initiatives.

photo of somerville

Census data show that Somerville experienced rapid population growth during the 50-year period between 1880 and 1930 when it went from 24,933 to a peak of 103,908. The 2010 census put the population at 75,754. Somerville has the greatest density of any city in New England.

Somerville MA
Persons under 18 years 12.1% 21.7%
Persons 65 years and over 9.1% 13.8%
American Indian and Alaska Native 0.3% 0.3%
Asian alone 8.7% 5.3%
Black or African-American alone 6.8% 6.6%
Hispanic or Latino 10.6% 9.6%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander <0.1% 0.0%
Two or more races 3.6% 2.6%
White alone 73.9% 80.4%
White alone (not Hispanic or Latino) 69.1% 76.1%

More than one-half of Somerville adults have at least a bachelor's degree (52%), and nearly a quarter of households have incomes of $100,000 or more. Nevertheless, the city's median income ($59,000) is substantially lower than the 2011 state median household income ($62,859)—or the median income for Massachusetts smaller cities ($71,522). The city's over-65 population declined by more than 2,000 people (nearly 25%) over the past decade.

"Three-fourths of the meat-packing of the Commonwealth is carried on in the six packing-houses of the city. In the order of their importance, other leading industries are: slaughtering, bakery products, confectionary, foundry and machine-shop products, beverages, structural iron and steel, printing, automobile assembling, coffee-roasting, furniture making, and household and photographic equipment.

Because of its definitely residential character, self-rule is prized in Somerville. It is this love for self-government that gives the city its vigor and its virility."

Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People, 1937

photo of somervillephoto of somervillephoto of somerville

According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey five-year estimates for 2007-2011, 26.0% of Somerville residents are foreign born, compared with 14.7% statewide .

  • 3.1% born in Africa
  • 30.4% born in Asia
  • 23.4% born in Europe
  • 39.2% born in Latin America
  • 2.9% born in Northern America
  • 1.0% born in Oceania

Although high compared with the state, the percentage of foreign-born residents is dropping. It went down 11.9% between 2000 and 2011. Also, the percentage of people who speak English less than “very well” dropped from 16.8% to 12.7%, a drop of 24.4% between 2000 and 2011. The American Community Survey also shows that:

  • The homeownership rate is 33.3%, compared with 63.6% statewide.
  • Somerville’s median home value is $447,000, compared with $343,500 statewide.
  • Median household income is $64,480, compared with $65,981 statewide.
  • 89.3% of Somerville residents 25 and over have graduated high school, compared with 88.9% statewide.
  • 52.8% of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 38.7% statewide.
  • 14.9% of Somerville residents are below the poverty line, compared with 10.7% statewide.
link to city data snapshot of somerville

Compare a range of demographic data for Somerville’s low- and moderate-income populations. 
Use the tool

in-depth data dashboard pdfs

Check out detailed stats on income, employment, education, health, and more provided by Clark University researchers for the Working Cities Challenge.

photo of somerville

According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, as of June 2013, Somerville’s unemployment rate was 5.4%, compared with 7.4% statewide. Nearly 30% of Somerville’s working residents commute to jobs in Boston, and just over 20% work in Cambridge. Clark University researchers found that Somerville’s five largest employers are:

  • City of Somerville
  • Cataldo Ambulance Service, Inc.
  • Rogers Foam Corporation
  • Biogen Idec – MA, Inc.
  • Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, Inc.

There are a number of promising economic and community development initiatives that are either in the works or recently completed:

  • SomerVision is Somerville’s Comprehensive Plan 2010-2030. Somerville planners spent hundreds of hours meeting with residents, academics, businesses and local nonprofits to develop the vision, focused on creating transit-oriented neighborhoods with 10.5 million square feet of new development and 30,000 new jobs for local residents.
  • A proposal to extend the Green Line rapid transit beyond Lechmere station, with stops in the Inner Belt/Brickbottom vicinity, Gilman Square, Lowell Street, Ball Square, and a terminus is being promoted.
  • At the same time, activists are working to ensure that the extension of transit and projected improvements in the residential and commercial real estate market don’t displace Somerville’s lower income and ethnically diverse communities.
  • Somerville Community Path is increasing Somerville’s walkability and residents’ fitness.
  • Redevelopment plans for Union Square, Somerville’s oldest and largest commercial center, are moving forward.
  • Proposals for the creation of a Commercial Corridor District along Broadway stretching to Winter Hill are progressing.