Editorial Connecticut’s persistent wealth gap
The juxtaposition of two recent reports on the financial health of Connecticut residents is jarring. The resemblance between these portraits of the Connecticut family has become unrecognizable.
In one, new U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that two of every five households in Fairfield County had annual earnings of $200,000 or more last year — a nearly one-third increase from 2006. That threshold is remarkable considering the county includes one of the poorest cities in the state, Bridgeport.
In Fairfield County, 20.4 percent of the households earn $200,000 or more a year, compared to 3.3 percent in Bridgeport. In New Haven County, 8 percent make that level or higher.
At the same time, almost 40 percent of the households in Connecticut are struggling every day to make ends meet, the annual United Way financial hardship report indicates. Almost 540,000 people in this rich state live below or just above the federal poverty line, the study determined. Many are families who are “employed but constrained,” meaning it is difficult for them to afford basic necessities.
The wealth gap in Connecticut is widening to a chasm.
While it is a positive sign for the state that the number of higher earners is increasing, it is distressing that so many others are left behind on the economic ladder.
This will be one of the many challenges facing the next governor, and the new General Assembly — how to create a climate that will ensure more people’s lives improve. In the mix should be job training opportunities, access to quality child care, and reliable transportation.
A closer look at the Census data shows that Fairfield County had triple the number of people earning $200,000 or more a year compared to the country as a whole.
The median income in the country was $61,372 — meaning half the households earned more and half less — a 1.8 percent increase from 2016 to 2017. Overall, in Connecticut the median income of $74,200 grew by 1 percent from 2016 to 2017, which is the right direction but not far enough. In New Jersey the median income rose 5.2 percent and in New York by 3.2 percent. We could do better.
Disparity among income in the state’s cities persists.
Stamford at $87,300 had the highest median income among large cities, with Norwalk second at $70,000. For Danbury, which saw a decrease, the median income was $65,600, but New Haven and Bridgeport households had a median level of about $45,000.
The number of Americans living below the poverty line inched downward from 12.7 percent in 2016 to 12.3 percent in 2017, the third consecutive year of decline. But it remains difficult for people with incomes hovering just above that line because the cost of basics, such as groceries and health care, has increased faster than wages, according to the United Way, which calls these households ALICE for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed. Even in Stamford — with the highest median income — 40 percent of the households are income constrained.
These two pictures of Connecticut ought to be more alike.