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Bay State boom a mixed blessing. Lots of jobs available, but many can't afford to live there

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They seem to have little in common. Lloyd Morehouse, a soft-spoken man from Louisiana, drifted into Boston five years ago after hearing about its wealth of employment opportunities. But until last year, he stayed in homeless shelters and scraped by on welfare payments and odd jobs.

Lee Meadow, a marketing professor from Illinois, moved to eastern Massachusetts two years ago because his wife wanted to return to her native state. He quickly landed a well-paying position at the University of Lowell, a school trying to keep pace with its flourishing high-tech surroundings 20 miles northeast of Boston.

Despite their differences, however, Mr. Morehouse and Mr. Meadow have both discovered the bittersweet reality of Massachusetts' economic boom: They both found permanent jobs in the thriving economy, which has drained much of the state's slow-growing labor supply. But they also had to scratch and claw for affordable housing.

Their stories, like those of countless others in the state, reflect the volatile mix of two economic forces here -- a tumbling jobless rate and soaring housing prices.

Between 1982 and 1985, the state's unemployment rate dropped from 7.9 percent to 3.9 percent, tying New Hampshire's mark for the lowest in the nation. (And Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D) is quick to point out that 8 percent of New Hampshire's labor force crosses the border each morning to work in the Bay State.)

The low jobless rate indicates the wealth and health of the area's economy. It suggests the mix of high-tech and service industries that other states envy. It shows that wages are up and the number of welfare recipients is down. And it helps explain why Massachusetts registered a $509 million surplus this year and why Boston could end the fiscal year with its first balanced budget in over a decade.

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