A New Look At CT Poverty, With Some Surprises

by Categorized: Jobs, Poverty Date:

If someone told you the total number of Connecticut residents living under the poverty line rose by 21 percent between 1990 and 2010, and that Hartford was by far the poorest city in the state, you’d figure the capital city led the way in the growth of poverty.


In fact, Hartford’s number of residents under the federal poverty line, 37,495, was up by 1,098 in 20 years. There were six cities and towns in Hartford County that had larger increases — including East Hartford, 4,784; West Hartford, 1,592; and Newington, where an increase of 1,168 very poor residents tripled the local poverty rate.

Overall, Connecticut had just under 725,000 people living in households with double the poverty rate or below in 2010, or 21 percent of the state — up from 519,000, or 17 percent, two decades earlier.

Why are all these numbers important? They’re in a report released Friday by the Connecticut Association for Community Action and the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis that tries to paint a clear picture of poverty and of the working poor in the nation’s richest state.

The report, titled “Meeting the Challenge: The Dynamics of Poverty in Connecticut,” offers four main recommendations, including one — cutting back on job credential requirements — that’s likely to draw controversy among industry groups.

But the facts alone are worth a pause. Despite the crush of data produced by universities and government agencies, we don’t know as much about poverty as we should. Friday’s report hits with some shocking numbers, for example 58 percent of births to Latinas in the six poorest cities are to women 17 and younger, compared with 27 percent among black women and 7 percent among white women in those cities.

The poverty rate, about 9 percent in Connecticut, is lower than in most states but the rate of growth is alarming, up from 6.8 percent in 1990. One reason, said Fred V. Carstensen, a University of Connecticut economics professor and head of CCEA: A decline in the number of low-wage, entry-level jobs.

“Unlike the nation, where there has actually been growth in these jobs, we’ve seen a dramatic loss,” Carstensen said.

Tying poverty to jobs makes sense, of course, and the fact is, Connecticut hasn’t created any jobs at all, in net, over the last 20 years. In two recessions alone, we lost 280,000 jobs, or about 17 percent of all jobs in the state.

Funny, we’ve been hearing for years from Carstensen and other economists that when Connecticut does add positions, it’s creating lower-paying jobs, not the sorts of high-wage jobs that boost the economy. In fact, Carstensen said Friday, we’re creating middle-income jobs, not the ones near the bottom that offer a route to advancement.

In manufacturing, where Connecticut lost 69,000 jobs between 1999 and 2011, 25,000 of the lost jobs paid under $40,000, which is less than double the poverty rate for a family of four. That means the decline of work in the goods-producing sector has hurt not only the middle-class, but also people a rung or two below the middle.

“We do not do the kind of analysis that needs to be done if we’re going to have an intelligent conversation,” Carstensen said.

The numbers more or less line up with what we saw last week in a report from the Connecticut Association for Human Services, showing that 21 percent of all families with children and at least one adult working full-time were at or below 200 percent of the poverty rate — what we call the working poor threshold.

There’s that 21 percent number again, same as the 21 percent of the overall state population that lives at or below 200 percent of poverty. But that raises a sticky question. If the percent is the same for families with and without jobs, maybe the problem isn’t all about jobs.

Jobs are a start. Friday’s report suggests a cohesive economic development plan. The authors credit Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with heading in the right direction.

Supporting education and training initiatives is also on the list, as it is on every job-related to-do list. The problem is that we can never know what jobs are really going to be needed at the time when we plan what training to offer. The report highlights a program in Cleveland in which trainees must have promises of jobs before they start any training.

Updating data and information systems statewide, including a data center, is also on the list, echoing a call by Carstensen for many years. The state Department of Social Services, he said, “has been left stranded with really, really outdated equipment and systems,” he said, citing a New York City system that has “saved lives and saved millions of dollars” by coordinating information.

The Connecticut Association for Community Action, which represents the 11 community action agencies, such as Community Renewal Team in Hartford, is not, in Friday’s report, calling for more state spending on social services support programs — reflecting budget reality.

“We will be when we go to Washington, D.C. next week,” said Edith Pollock Karsky, executive director of the association. “We’re very worried about our energy assistance program.”


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17 thoughts on “A New Look At CT Poverty, With Some Surprises

  1. alan

    True the growth rate may be higher but Hartford has very few left to move into poverty as they are already there. Carstensen has been just making everything up..The Courant supported everythign from the Ed Enhancement act(Bill Oneill) to the Income tAx(Sully, Ritter, Cibes) the end result of these being a transfer offund from private to public sector(Education), then a transfer of funds from productive private sector Conn to Hartford(Income tax). The productive people outside of Hartford/UConn could not care less about Geno, Ollie and the other obsessions of Hartford, we have to save ourselves and families.

      1. alan

        I typed this in 3 minutes on a new Android tablet that i was not familiar with. The logic is correct though, starting in 86 the private sector of this state has been destroyed by intiatives eminating from Hartford. Living downstate it is not really followed here as we are NY oriented and really have to compete in an global marketplace. Hartford/UConn corridor is almost all govt oriented and it is unnecessary to compete.

  2. Geoffy

    “The authors credit Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with heading in the right direction.”

    Sure. The fact that CT has been heading straight downhill the last decade, and that our state government has been moving farther and farther to the left during that time frame MUST BE just a coincidence. Otherwise, what other conclusion would be left, that Liberalism doesn’t work ???
    Such ideas are ILLEGAL in this state!

  3. Jack Canady

    Can we have an independent analysis of the number of people filing income tax returns, those paying income tax and the amount of declared income and income tax paid over the past decade or two to illustrate the real improvements in business environments that our legislature likes to promote.

  4. Amanda C. Brown

    Interesting. The Courant might let Dean Harr expand on this for five or six daily installments which would allow him to seek opinions on Economics professors outside of the State school system(UCONN etc).Get people discussing the ideas while the Legislature is in session.

  5. Dan Haar

    Everybody likes to talk about this as a government policy issue but that might be the wrong place to look, or at lest not the main place. Why have wages fallen for jobs such as retail clerks and warehouse stockers that used to pay decently? There isn’t more competition. Company profits are not lower, certainly not as a result of taxes, which are now lower than they were 20 years ago. The answer is that these types of jobs pay less because companies figured out that they can. The old system of shared prosperity was in essence a giant market failure, in which we were all better off because firms were doing something they didn’t have to do. How do we put the genie back in the bottle?

    1. alan

      many jobs growing up in the 70’s were in regulated companies with cost plus pricing, SNET, all of UTC, Banks/Insurance all had profits and essentially were arms of the govt. All you had to do have a relative at a company or be a good softball player and you had a 30 year career. This sustained a nice lifestyle w/40 hr weeks, OT, pensions but basically bankrupted companies once deregulation occurred. That is why govt/public ed stands out..Public safety/ed have min staffing, seniority, pensions just like Nixon was president while everyone else scrambling. Short of another world war(70 million killed in WWII- mostly working age men and only 400K USA)we cant have the phone it ease of the 70’s anymore. I am not Norquist, but we cant have a 2 tiered economy based on whether you are publically or privately employed. Maybe a higher min wage(who cares about Walmart but it would kill small coffee shops), Obamacare(gives us all a mini version of what govt workers enjoy) would help quality of life

    2. old capitalist

      Try government devaluation of money & taxes (what was the min wage in 1980 and what was the FICA, Sales and Gas Tax rate). Competition (did you forget what Walmart- lowest prices; did to Sears and JC Penny,?) Technology – on-line buying reduces the need for many retail outlets and puts pressure on prices, and a large immigrant unskilled labor force competing for fewer jobs are all factors in the equation. Keep dreaming of Jeanie.

  6. Bob W

    You have no clue what poverty is. Those in “poverty” here in CT have no clue what poverty is either. I suggest you go to another part of the world and look for poverty. Those at or below the poverty line here in CT are wealthy in comparison.

    if wages have fallen it is due to CTs unfriendly to business attitude to business and a tax and spend mentality. Companies have to strike a balance somewhere on the balance sheet with their share holders so profits have to go up if the company is to survive at all and offset the mandatory expenditures levied by the gang in Hartford. So employees take it on the chin. CTs budget has quadrupled since the creation of the state income tax going from $6billion to nearly $24billion. Sure some of the money is from individuals but it is also from businesses too and much larger chunk. What has CT done with this additional $18billion?

    If you want to decrease the so called poverty in CT start with Dan Malloy and the legislature and ask them why the state needs 4x the money they needed 20 plus years ago and to account for every wasted dime. Lastly, if you and everyone who thinks like you wants to decrease poverty why don’t you help the state and fork over some more in taxes than what your obligated. Put your money where your mouth is and leave the rest of us alone.

  7. old capitalist

    I know the citizens are not getting their bang for a buck when it comes to education in this state. Math and Science( who takes high school chemistry and physics these days)seems to be reserved for “honor classes”. Judging from a lot of responses I see on the Haar report, it seems that basic economics is also sorely lacking. Why on every article does someone suggest that things will improve by raising the minimum wage. If that is the case why not raise it to $100 Hour?
    Think about it.

  8. old capitalist

    Government devaluation of money & taxes (what was the minimum wage back in 1980? What was the FICA, Sales and Gas Tax Rate?
    Competetion- are you forgetting what Walmart(lowest prices) did to Sears and JC Penny?
    Technology – On-line buying puts pressure on prices and reduces the need for many outlets.
    Large and mostly unskilled immigrant population competeing for fewer unskilled jobs.
    Keep dreaming of Jeanie.

  9. Tony

    The problem with raising the minimum wage is that it also raises prices of all commodities, making it more expensive to live. Thus, it never helps those it is meant to help. It doesn’t matter if I make $15/hour at a minimum wage job, if it means the price of milk spikes to $7/gallon to pay for my raise.

    Minimum wage jobs are NEVER meant to live on. They are entry level to gain experience and work ethic, and should be used by teenagers in preparation for the real world.

    The fact that 90%+ of children in poverty come from single-parent, overwhelmingly single mothers, seems to have missed our esteemed journalists and academians. And government policies encourage single motherhood by subsidizing it heavily.

    1. Pat

      And, what would you suggest – cutting off subsidizing to single mothers. I have a better suggestion for you – get the scum bag who bolted through the front door to be responsible. Also, free day care would need to be provided until the kids reach school age so the mother can go to work. The scum bags should serve jail time if they do not meet their obligation. Last, do not blame the mothers for their circumstances – how about blaming both the perpetrator of the pregnancy as we all know it takes two to tango. Also, if the republicans follow Mittsey, Roe vs. Wade will go down the tubes and the poor and probably the Middle Class would not be able to afford contraceptives as the nice guys of the Republican Party do not want to have insurance pay for it when they get free medical care for life doing the worst job anyone can do and I don’t mean difficulties of the job, but the stupidity of the in-fighting over every issue put forward by the president or democrats. Look at the gun control controversy – both sides have gun advocates and toot their horns about 2nd amendment rights but the American people 67% want stricter gun control. Newtown, hopefully, has made a difference as well as other mass shootings including the Gabriel Gifford and their followers who were shot and some killed. We are living in a violent country and women’s rights are going down the tubes – we are worst off than when Helen Reddy sang I am Woman in 1975 and the UN made 1975 International Women’s Year. All of this is IMHO so don’t bother responding in anger.

      1. old capitalist

        Since the results of the women’s rights movement was to bless the country with millions of single moms and their offspring mired in poverty and dependent on public assistance, then I would propose that the country levy a tax surcharge of 20% on all working women with the funds earmarked to pay for “free” daycare and “free” contraceptives to any women requesting it. That is MHO, Pam… and yes part of the funds could be used to track the scum bags who didn’t use one.

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