The top reads of 2023
On the list: Opioid crisis hits region hard, research on racial wealth gaps, rampant check fraud
In 2023, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston investigated chronic challenges, like the opioid epidemic and racial wealth gaps, and it covered new concerns, including rampant check fraud and the impacts of Vermont’s summer flooding. Our articles on those issues and more are among our Top Reads of 2023. Check out the stories below, in no particular order.
Summary: The opioid epidemic has had disproportionately high impacts on New England’s people and its economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse. People in recovery from Maine to Massachusetts talk about present struggles and future threats as they work to combat an addiction that thrives in isolation.
Quote: “We were just kids, you know? … And then, oxy hit. … By the time I was 30, I’d been to more friends’ funerals than weddings.” – Kimberli Lovell, program manager & recovery coach, Bath (Maine) Recovery Community Center
Summary: Many programs and policies that aim to end racial wealth disparities focus on changing the behavior of low-income individuals by encouraging savings or improving financial education. But researchers argue in this paper that wealth gaps are largely driven by systemic and structural issues, rather than individual decision-making.
Quote: “My hope is that we can recenter the conversation around the structural drivers of wealth inequality and think about how to counter them.” – Sara Chaganti, deputy director of research, Regional & Community Outreach, Boston Fed
Summary: The check is fading away as a consumer payment method. So why is check fraud suddenly rampant? The answer is opportunity. It’s a low-tech and relatively easy crime to pull off, and there is still a sizeable pool of potential victims.
Quote: “If opportunity is fueling the rise of check fraud, awareness can help slow it,” Mike Timoney, vice president, Secure Payments, Boston Fed
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Summary: In many ways, it was impossible to prepare for the rains and rising rivers that flooded communities in Vermont in July. But in some ways, it wasn't. Working Communities Challenge officials said the group’s regular work – including efforts to build new community partnerships and networks – proved to be critical preparation when the floods hit.
Quote: “You can see the importance of doing everything we can to build those existing community networks. Once you build them, you know they're already there, both in good times and bad.” – Jen Carlo, team leader, Working Communities Challenge Northeast Kingdom (Vermont)
Summary: The Federal Reserve is mandated by Congress to promote “maximum employment.” But what does full employment look like? And why do disparities persist in labor market participation by race, gender, education, and geography? These questions were explored at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s 67th Economic Conference.
Quote: “(At the Boston Fed), we believe better understanding these gaps can lead to expanded opportunities for more people – and to those opportunities being more equitably available. This helps bring more people into the workforce and strengthens economic growth and competitiveness.” – Susan M. Collins, president and CEO, Boston Fed
Summary: The FedListens event was a forum for New Englanders to talk about their top economic priorities and concerns to the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors and regional Fed officials. One topic that came up repeatedly, and with urgency, was housing.
Quote: “The level of desperation is much higher than it used to be, and it’s affecting more people than we have ever seen in the past.” – Rebecca Hatfield, president and CEO, Avesta Housing (Maine)