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Too prosperous, Massachusetts is losing its labor force

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"Finally, a job opens up close to where they live, and they regretfully tell me they are leaving," says Egerman. "When that happens, it hurts me a lot."

Young adults and their families are among the most likely to leave the state, according to the study by Boston's Northeastern University. It found that 120,000 workers left the state between 2003 and 2005, contributing to a 1.7 percent labor-force contraction – the only state showing losses for all three years. Overall population has dipped in previous years, and showed a tiny uptick in 2006, adding 3,826 people.

According to a Boston Globe poll last year, half of those who recently left Massachusetts cited the cost of housing as a major factor in their decision.

For young families, it sometimes feels as if the Pilgrims had an easier time establishing a permanent settlement here. The median price of a single-family home in Massachusetts is $315,000 – and that's down about 13 percent from June 2005. In some Boston suburbs, the median approaches seven digits.

The clamor for affordable housing bumps up against resistance from communities closer to Boston that fear the impact of low-cost housing on existing home values or from more distant suburbs worried about a flood of new children in their school systems.

"One of the biggest things people are worried about is the value of their home," says Mr. Francese. But when residents say "not in my backyard" to new housing – particularly high-density or affordable units – they are shooting themselves in the foot, he says. "If the labor force keeps shrinking ... your house is going to be worth less in the future."

It's an argument that affordable housing advocates here are trying to make. Joe Kriesberg of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations says his group works through local community developers to build or preserve more than 1,000 housing units annually.

"One of the things our members do is organize the people who are often not heard from – lower-income people, tenants, people who are new to the community – whereas long-standing homeowners are often reluctant to see new development going on," says Mr. Kriesberg.

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