Category Archives: Poverty

Why Connecticut Republicans Should Have Cheered For Obama Wednesday

by Categorized: Politics, Poverty Date:

We did not see many Connecticut Republicans at President Obama’s New Britain rally on Wednesday, and while that’s an obvious political reality, it represents a lost opportunity for the state.

Connecticut, with a minimum wage that’s already $1.45 an hour higher than the nation’s and going up to at least $1.75 higher in January if Congress doesn’t act, could only be helped by a national increase in the wage. That’s because the state could suffer as an outlier with higher costs, even though we’ve rightly made the decision to raise the minimum above national standards.

So why aren’t Republicans lining up behind Obama’s call for a sharp increase in the lowest pay for all workers? It is, after all, the GOP that argues a higher minimum wage gives a city or state a competitive disadvantage if other states have a lower wage.

In San Jose, Calif., for example, which raised its wage to $10 an hour one year ago while its neighbors remained at $8, the conservative Employment Policies Institute reported harsh effects including at least 12 businesses closing.

The reason we don’t see any bipartisan local support, despite the logic of it, reveals a lot about the debate that reached a shrill peak in New Britain with Obama’s speech. Unlike, say, abortion or gun control, arguments about wages are especially messy because it’s not just values in play but an impossibly complicated set of actions and reactions in the economy.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart's selfie. She was one of the few Republicans in the gym.  Credit: Twitter @stewartfornb

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart’s selfie. She was one of the few Republicans in the gym.
Credit: Twitter @stewartfornb

Obama, true to form, used his soaring moral rhetoric: “Nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty!”

But it’s not just a moral and economic issue — it’s political. And Obama needs New England as the rabbit in this race. Famously a guy who keeps his eye on the ball, the president wants that national increase and he knows he can’t get it without help from the states. He knows the Republican-led Congress will not boost the $7.25 an hour wage unless a lot of states lead the way, and that’s why Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is his new best friend.

Obama said so clearly, calling the four New England governors sitting behind him on the podium a “supergroup,” quipping that they’d be dubbed the “New England Patriots” if that name weren’t taken. “I need your help,” the president said to the crowd at the close of the speech.

So, Democrats at the state level are part of the national strategy even as they worry about what’s happening inside their borders.

Republicans who oppose an increase say the wage is a poor tool for addressing poverty because employers reduce hiring and most people who earn the minimum wage don’t live in poverty.

“I don’t disagree that the minimum wage should be set at a reasonable rate,” state Republican Chairman Jerry Labriola said in a written release, “but what President Obama and Governor Malloy won’t tell you is that the CBO has projected that their proposal will result in a half million net job losses, and that’s a big concern.”

He was referring to the Congressional Budget Office, which last month estimated that a $10.10 minimum wage, the Democrats’ goal, would cost 500,000 jobs by 2016.

Democrats, backed by a petition of 600 economists, say the latest economic thinking shows that an increase might not cost any jobs at all. They say that despite urban myths to the contrary, less than 15 percent of minimum wage earners are teenagers. And of course, they point out that minimum wage earners spend all their money, boosting the economy efficiently.

“You get a virtuous cycle,” Obama declared Wednesday. “It’s common sense, that’s what I say.”

News reporters can and do find emotional examples of noble, low-wage workers who can’t build a life. The argument is made all the more compelling by the obvious fact that taxpayers are supporting those families.

The deeper problem with pay is that we as a nation have drunk the corporate Kool-Aid that work is about building business profits at all cost, not about sustaining families. The crisis is, at its core, a private-sector issue that state and federal governments can only affect in a blunt way, as more money goes to fewer people. Obama acknowledged that, too.

So Connecticut will do a favor for Obama and the nation by continuing to push ahead on the state wage. We can debate the value of that forever.

But as for the national wage, it hasn’t gone up since 2007 and is falling so far below the cost of living that a modest increase to, say, $8.50 would just bring us back to the zero point.  It needs to be enacted and the Republicans are just dead wrong to oppose it outright.

In fact it should be pegged to inflation so we don’t have to endure this idiotic charade every three years.

Still, Connecticut Republicans believe they can’t push for a national increase and fight a state increase, and that’s why we did not see them at Central Connecticut State University today — except for New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, who got to meet Obama (“He has very soft hands!”).

Stewart, one of the nation’s youngest mayors at 26, Tweeted a selfie of herself with Obama in the photo. she said she sees both sides of the debate and has no position on an increase — adding that she “got a lot of grief” from anonymous Republicans on Twitter and some blogs for joining the rally Wednesday.

It’s too bad we didn’t put up a united front on the national wage. We could probably have cajoled Obama to drop a $1 billion check for that New Haven-to-Springfield rail line.

Plan To Charge Stores For Paying Low Wages: Flawed But Has Merit

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Politics, Poverty, Retail Date:

Connecticut is already one of the three states with the highest minimum wages and it’s the only one with mandatory paid sick days. Now advocates for the working poor are pushing for a novel plan to address the crisis of below-poverty wages: Penalize employers that pay too little.

The controversial plan isn’t in effect in any state and was narrowly defeated in Washington D.C., where Wal-Mart threatened to pull out. The idea is to extract money from low-paying retailers and fast-food companies to help the state compensate for the income supports that low-wage workers receive.

Fair is fair, the logic goes. Why should taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts?

Tina Conners, a McDonald's employee in Manchester who lives in her car. Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Tina Conners, a McDonald’s employee in Manchester who lives in her car.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Care to get upset? A recent report by the Connecticut Association for Human Services showed that a family of four with two adults working a total of 60 hours a week at $10 an hour would be eligible for $29,147 a year in public assistance — much of it Medicaid. And that wouldn’t even include the earned income tax credit, which would push the total higher.

That means you the taxpayer are subsidizing you the shopper to the tune of thousands of dollars for every low-wage sales employee. Still feel good about those 12-packs of socks for $6?

Under the Connecticut version of the wage penalty bill, which had a hearing Tuesday before the legislature’s labor committee, any company with at least 500 employees in the state would have to pay $1 per hour per affected worker into state coffers if it paid less than the “standard wage” for its lowest job classification. For a minimum wage worker in fast food, for example, the standard wage is $11.31 an hour — 130 percent of the $8.70 minimum.

The idea has big problems, illustrated in the story of Tina Conners, who’s from Manchester and told lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday, in a meeting in his office, that she lives in her car.  Conners, 21, works between 10 hours and 20 hours a week  at a local McDonald’s. She’d like to have more hours but can’t get them.

Conners was at the Capitol to push for the low-wage penalty and a higher minimum wage, which Malloy wants. But what she needs more than a slightly higher wage is many more hours. She told me she’d prefer to log 20 to 30 hours a week, leaving her time and money to go to college and eventually, a career as a dentist.

The $1 an hour penalty wouldn’t come close to paying for the public subsidies that we the taxpayers have to shell out for low-wage workers, but it would be a start. And it wouldn’t help Tina Conners add hours to her workweek; if anything, it could lead to fewer hours.

Another problem: Franchisers such as McD’s and Subway are not the employers. No worry, advocates say. Franchisers would be liable even if they didn’t own the stores in question.

Bills like this come up precisely because low-wage employers are abusing the public trust. We as greedy, shortsighted consumers are the ones letting them do it — all the worse in the case of the poison we’re buying and ingesting from the fast food industry.

And so the bill is politically brilliant if only for the point it makes: The fines would not go to the workers, in effect an enforced wage; rather, the money would go back to the taxpayers.  “Politically, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a home run,” said Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and a leader of the effort. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s not a home run for the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, who argue that the bill would raise costs in the state and drive out retailers that pay property taxes and offer opportunity to workers. “Our employers do the best job they can,” said Tim Phelan, president of the retail merchants group.

Well, no, they don’t. He can say that about his small retail members that are just getting by, but not about the big national chains and franchises that are transferring billions of dollars from taxpayers to shareholders by shortchanging workers. McDonald’s employees alone receive $1.2 billion a year in public assistance, an October, 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project showed.

Phelan and CBIA advance the idea that low-wage jobs are entry level. “They provide the learning experience,” said Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at CBIA, the state’s largest business group.

Certainly any specific worker can get ahead, but by definition the system will screw most people, simply because the wage structure at many big retailers is so bottom-heavy.

Both sides flash numbers showing why states should, or should not, force employers to pay higher wages or penalize those that don’t.  But ultimately, the states are just bystanders in a private-sector pay system that creates opportunity for a few and poverty for the many, to the benefit of us the consumers.

Maybe we should try the penalty. Flawed as it is, nothing else is working.

Five Things You Need To Know About Income Inequality

by Categorized: Economy, Poverty, Wealth Date:

President Obama’s Dec. 4 speech on income inequality laid out his thoughts on an issue that’s been brewing since 1973. His State of the Union speech added some specifics, notably an executive order for a $10p.10 minimum wage for federal contractors. But there’s plenty he’s not saying, or barely touching.

1.  Rising income inequality is not mainly a result of public policies. What’s happening is that the value of work is declining in relation to the value of ideas and investment capital. Workers are paid less for their work. That’s not caused by something the government did or didn’t do. “The decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real,” Obama said in the December speech. Not entirely true.  It’s possible that Obama could affect the pay gap as much through the bully pulpit as through the minimum wage, collective bargaining rules and taxes.

2. The poor do better when the rich do fabulously better.  The old saw about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is true much of the time, but often it’s only true for the very, very rich.  When the top 10 percent stay flat or barely move ahead, the working poor lose ground. But when the rich take a hugely bigger share of the pie, that’s when the working poor make headway, chiefly in the late ’90s (see chart). This is because the pie is growing at those times.

Change In Real Annual Household Income, By Income Group, 1979–2007:

Graphic by Economic Policy Institute

3. The real issue is living standards — income adjusted for inflation — and the real problem is that they’re falling for most families.  How much does the income gap matter if you’re seeing gains?  Yes, the way other people are doing matters to you, but consider this: When billionaire Edward Lampert moved out of Connecticut in 2012 in a huff over taxes, income inequality instantly improved in the state. Did the average Connecticut resident feel better?

4. Global competition and technology are not the main causes of the rising pay gap. Those are the old excuses, but research, including a lengthy report by the Economic Policy Institute in November, show that there’s something deeper going on that’s not explained by automation lowering demand for labor.  Certainly they are factors, said co-author and EPI president Lawrence Mishel.  But each gap — between the rich and the middle class, the middle and the poor, the ultra-rich and everyone else — has its own causes. For example, the 1 percent zoomed ahead because of CEO pay and the rise of Wall Street finance, and the middle fell behind the 90 percent because of globalization, deregulation, unemployment and privatization. More and better training is not necessarily the answer because someone has to do the dirty work.

5. Raising the minimum wage helps even the playing field but it doesn’t address underlying issue and it could hurt some people. The debate over whether a higher min-wage hurts the economy is endless. Clearly, raising the wage from its current. depressed federal level of $7.25 an hour would help matters because it would take full-time workers out of poverty.  Still, as Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said this month in a Courant interview, the best way to raise workers’ bargaining power is by addressing unemployment. Even the liberal Rosengren said a sharply higher minimum could cause retailers, for example, to use more technology and fewer employees.

 

Report Shows Grim Shortage Of Living Wage Jobs In Connecticut

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Poverty Date:

A new report Tuesday showed more detail about what we already knew: That most jobs in Connecticut pay less than the so-called living wage, and that there are lots of people looking for a few good jobs.

How bad is it? Connecticut’s living wage for a single adult with one school-age child is $28.68 an hour, and two-thirds of all projected open jobs in the state pay less than that, according to the 15th annual “Job Gap Study” produced by the Alliance for a Just Society.

Worse still, Connecticut will have 41 “job-seekers” for every open job that pays that $28.68 wage, which translates to about $60,000 a year at 40 hours a week, all year. A job-seeker is defined as a person who’s unemployed and actively looking, working part-time not by choice, or not working and not looking because he or she is discouraged by the lack of jobs available.

The living wage for a single adult in Connecticut is $19.44 an hour, or about $40,000 a year, the level where about half of openings will occur, the report claimed. And there are 25 job-seekers for every one of those openings — by far the largest number of any of the ten states studied in the report.

Nationally, the report said, there are 21 million job-seekers, down slightly from the depth of the recession in 2009 but up from 11 million in 2007.

The Connecticut report, released by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, lists $1,261 a month for housing and utilities for an adult with one child, $630 a month for clothing and personal items and $307 a month for health care.

Connecticut in May adopted a higher minimum wage, which rises by 45 cents from $8.25 to $8.70 an hour on Jan. 1, then by another 30 cents to $9 an hour at the start of 2015.  The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not changed since 2009, and the alliance backs the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the wage to $10.10.

That’s still short of the $15-an-hour wage that fast food workers will demand Thursday in a national day of strikes in 100 cities, including Hartford and New Haven.

But the problem is more complicated than raising wages across the board. We need to understand why work has been so badly devalued, and how to address it without throwing thousands of firms out of business, perhaps through a tiered minimum wage.

Do You Live In a Super-Zip ZIP Code?

by Categorized: Poverty, Wealth Date:

Here’s a new way to show Connecticut’s vast socioeconomic divides — in full, interactive color.

The Washington Post has made a map of every ZIP code in America, highlighting the nation’s 650 “Super Zips.”  Those are the ones where the percentile ranks in income and college education average at least 95.

Connecticut has a hefty 24 Super Zips, including 17 in Fairfield County, five in Greenwich alone.  The Hartford area has nine, in Simsbury, Avon, West Hartford and Glastonbury.

superzip

Hartford has a ZIP that’s almost-super, 06103 downtown, thanks in part to state subsidies for upscale apartments.  That ZIP is right next door to 06120, which comes in at a 1 ranking, the lowest possible.

Fairfield County has several 99’s — the highest ranking possible. There are none of those in the Hartford area, thankfully.  Ninety-nine is a bit extreme.

Head Start: 1,000 Children Shut Out In Bridgeport, Some State Help coming

by Categorized: Education, Government, Poverty Date:

As Head Start classes in and around Bridgeport remain mostly shuttered with nearly 1,000 children locked out, the director of the federally funded early childhood program in that region hopes for state money to bring back 200 next week.

Some of the Head Start funding does come from the state, and that enabled Action for Bridgeport Community Development, which runs the local Head Start program, to bring back 256 children and reopen two of the 13 locations that were closed Tuesday.

Sorting out the state and federal funding for each site has been “a nightmare,” said Monette Ferguson, who heads the Head Start program for ABCD in Bridgeport.  But not as bad as the nightmare for the affected low-income working families, who count on Head Start to care for their children.

“The ones that I’ve spoken to are really, really anxious and they’re worried about losing their employment,” Ferguson said.

Bridgeport’s ABCD is one of 18 Head Start agencies around the state, and it’s the only one — one of just 20 in the entire United States — that was on an October budget cycle. And so it remains closed, with 313 of its own staffers on furlough.  The staff number seems high for 1,000 children, and that’s because Head Start is more than just a pre-school.

“It’s a two-generational program,” said David Morgan, president of the Connecticut Head Start Association and director of the Head Start program run by TEAM Inc. in Derby.

“While educating the child they’re also working with the family,” he said, on a wide variety of social, health and job-related issues.

Other Head Start programs around the state, are faced with possible closure as their budget dates approach. Morgan didn’t know Friday how many would have to shut out students on Nov. 1.

The program serves a total of 6,600 students, down from 7,300 before the sequester hit earlier this year, Morgan said. So the political squabble has already cost 700 of the state’s neediest children their lifeline to a better education.

These are the poorest of the poor kids and families,” Morgan said, in which a single mother with one child is ineligible if she makes more than $15,500. “That’s who we just shut the door on.”

So you might think Morgan’s memo to the public, issued Wednesday, would show some anger and vitriol. On the contrary, he struck a note of sadness at the lost services for low-income families, and lost work for Head Start employees, some of whom are struggling themselves.

Click here for the Head Start memo

Morgan closed the memo by writing, “Above all else, we should all be mindful of the effects on our mindset in these extremely unsettling times — let’s be good to one another.”

He added, in an interview, “We’re so busy at the front line working with these families and managing people, we don’t have a lot of time to get political…Everyone knows where the problem is.”

Bravo for that attitude. Most of us couldn’t resist a swipe.

As for asking the state to front the entire bill to keep Bridgeport Head Start open, which would come to about $150,000 a week, that’s not in the plan, Morgan and Ferguson said.

“The state is in trouble too, financially,” Ferguson said.

Report Card For The Nation’s Middle Class: A Big, Fat D

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Poverty, Wealth Date:

How do you feel about your buying power over these past few years since the recession supposedly ended? Barely treading water?

You’re not alone. Median household income for the nation was flat when adjusted for inflation, at $51,017 last year compared with $51,100 in 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

That’s the fifth straight year of flat or falling incomes, with declines totaling 8 percent. If you think the stagnant median — the point where half the nation’s 122 million households make more, half less — is a result of economic malaise, think again. Just since the end of the recession, buying power for the household in the middle is down by more than 4 percent, while total inflation-adjusted income in the United States is up by more than 5 percent and the major stock market indexes have doubled.

HC-Census-incomes-091813

This is the national report card on the prosperity of the middle class. The grade: a big, fat D. And it’s not just a few lousy years: Median household income has fallen or stayed the same in 11 of the past 14 years since the last great run-up of the Clinton era, as income has jumped ahead by more than a quarter.

On Thursday we’ll see the state’s median, and we have no reason to believe it will be any better — especially since Connecticut’s four metro areas were all near the bottom of the pack in overall economic growth in 2012, reported separately Tuesday.

Poverty was also unchanged in the nation in 2012, at 15 percent, the Census report showed. The number of Americans with health coverage edged up, reflecting more people eligible for Medicare and slightly more young adults covered under their parents’ plans. But the tally of uninsured Americans, 48 million, was statistically unchanged from 2011.

Connecticut can expect to fare better in reducing the ranks of the uninsured when the numbers come out Thursday, as preliminary figures show. Poverty may also show a decrease in the state, which added an earned income tax credit in 2011. And there are straightforward ways to improve both of those measures.

But when it comes to the median household income figure, the Census report is a deep disappointment with no hope of an easy solution. Forecasters had predicted a small increase, but even that — which didn’t happen — would not have masked the struggle of typical families.

“For well over a decade households that would have, in prior periods, gotten ahead have failed to do so,” said economist Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former ranking adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. “The extent of this disconnect is so profound that if it doesn’t wake policymakers up … I can’t imagine what would.”

To put it in perspective, the median climbed by 15 percent during the Clinton years, from $48,884 to $56,080 (in 2012 dollars), before the long declines. And even that Clinton-era run-up wasn’t as strong as in the glory years of 1947 to 1973, when the nation’s median multiplied, unfettered by global competition, with union membership near or above 25 percent.

Connecticut, usually in the top three states for median income, is following a similar pattern, except with more ups and downs as key industries rise and fall.

So how should we think about what’s happening?

Clearly, based on the fact that overall income is rising and income at the bottom is falling, the rich are seeing more gains. But it’s not just the plain vanilla rich, according to a recently released study based on IRS data — it’s the super-rich, the 1 percent, that has sucked in a disproportionate share of recent gains in income.

This isn’t class warfare. The problem isn’t that the rich are getting richer; power to them, at their best they create jobs. The problem, as Bernstein says, is the disconnect between economic growth and typical pay.

I tend to think the situation is hopeless at a time when Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree to pay the nation’s previously promised debts, when China is launching its own aerospace industry, when armies of insurance workers are losing their jobs to cheaper workers on visas from India, when large numbers of U.S. high school graduates basically can’t read.

In that view, we’re in a sort of permacession for vast tracts of working families, a downturn beyond the boom-and-bust cycles, in which the American empire declines in a more or less orderly way. A stagnating median household income number is not a sign of the empire’s decline, it is the decline itself. The median is to the economy what stock prices are to a publicly traded company.

Bernstein and others, without sugarcoating the lousy numbers, are more optimistic. After all, the U.S. economy is growing decently and, most important, it’s creating income at a nice clip. What we have is a failure of policy, they argue. It’s just a matter of finding a way to get that income back into the hands of the mass population — preferably right in the paycheck rather than at the back end with government supports.

“What we should focus on … is how we as a state and a community make sure that people are equipped to deal with the changes in the economy,” said Matt Santacroce, a policy analyst at Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven-based advocacy and research group.

Santacroce mentioned the unemployment trust fund, the minimum wage, the earned-income tax credit, programs for child health and job training. “On a broader level, what we can do is make sure that the state is producing workers that come out of our K-12 school system and out of our public university system who are equipped to handle the 21st century economy … really ready to go to work.”

All good stuff, all of it worthy, but it costs taxpayer dollars. Conservatives tend to think the middle class would do well if the government would get out of the way and stop spending money, and that disagreement is why it’s hard to gain much traction either way.

Bernstein sees a higher path than arguing about government income supports. The key is workers’ bargaining power, which only happens in times of full employment, when the jobless rate is low — such as the 1960s and the ’90s.

“If you conclude that the only thing we can do to help middle- and lower-income households is provide benefits once they’ve been smacked around by market outcomes, you’re really giving up the game,” he said. Instead: “Worry less about tweaking the tax code and the budget deficit and worry about what would it take to get the unemployment rate down.”

One of his possible solutions is to view the government as an “employer of last resort,” just as the Federal Reserve is a de facto lender of last resort.

That gets us right back to the partisan debate, but is also reminds us — on the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the government’s dramatic rescue — that if bailing out workers is socialism, then so is bailing out banks and automakers, and so is offering a tax-free ride to pharmaceutical firms and other companies that employ people and conduct research, and so is handing $115 million in state taxpayer dollars to the world’s biggest hedge fund to make sure it stays in town.

Youth Unemployment Report Points To Crisis With Contradictions

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Poverty, Public finance Date:

On the same day when fast food workers in Hartford and across the country, many of them young, are protesting for sharply higher wages, an advocacy group has released a report decrying the high unemployment rate among people aged 16 to 24.

The report from Connecticut Voices for Children, titled “The State of Working Connecticut 2013,” reminds us that the issue of wages and joblessness among the working poor is anything but simple.

The so-called youth unemployment rate in Connecticut stands at 17.1 percent, lower than the peak of 18.2 percent in 2011 but higher than the national rate of 16.2 percent, and more than double the rate for the state’s work force as a whole, which is 8.1 percent.

Click here for the report

Although data by age groups within races is not available for states, the unemployment rate among black and Hispanic youths is at crisis levels. Joblessness among all black and Hispanic people in the state is about double the rate of whites and the effect for youths multiplies.

In largely minority Bridgeport, for example, the unemployment rate among youths 16 to 19 who are actively looking for jobs is an astounding 50 percent according to the report from the liberal New Haven group, which cites data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census.

Even at 17 percent, it’s a dire picture — made complicated by the debate over pay for low-wage workers. If the minimum wage rises, doesn’t that mean the total number of jobs will fall, or at least not rise to meet demand for jobs?

Continue reading

Report: Suburban Poverty Rises Sharply But CT Regions More Stable

by Categorized: Poverty Date:

Metro Hartford’s suburbs have among the lowest poverty rates among the largest 100 U.S. urban areas and the region is in the middle of the pack in growth of suburban poverty, a new report shows.

But the region, which includes Hartford, Middlesex and Tolland counties, had the second-fasted gain in suburban poverty of any metro in the northeast from 2000 to 2011, according to the report released Monday by the Brookings Institution. The release included a new book, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, and a web site designed to spur awareness and action, www.confrontingsuburbanpoverty.org.

Metro Hartford had a suburban poverty rate of 8.6 percent in 2011, compared with a national average of 12.1 percent. The top five were all small metro regions in Texas and California, which are poor areas in general.

Nationwide, 55 percent of all people living in poverty are in suburbs, not core cities. That’s up from 47 percent in 1970, and includes 16.4 million people.

Metro Hartford’s suburban poor, 90,198 people in 2011, account for 68 percent of the region’s total because, of course, the city of Hartford is small compared with the region.

The growth rate of poverty in the Hartford suburbs was 62 percent, ranking it No. 48 among 95 of the top 100 metros. (Data was not available for five small metros.)  Only Rochester, at 75 percent, was higher among northeast metros, and the national average was 64 percent.

New Haven was at 52 percent growth, with a suburban poverty rate of 10.3 percent, and Bridgeport-Stamford was among the lowest growth rates in the nation, at 39 percent, with the lowest of all suburban poverty rates in 2011, 5.5 percent.

Springfield had the second-lowest growth rate in the last decade, at 18 percent, but it still had one of the region’s highest rates, at 11.6 percent.

The issue of suburban poverty brings together a dizzying mass of ideas and social changes.  For example, we can’t tell from the numbers whether poverty is concentrated in the suburbs of a given metro, or spread out. New Britain, which is a city, is counted as a suburb in the Brookings report, skewing the data.

Where is the suburban poverty in Metro Hartford? The report doesn’t get that granular, but I looked at Census figures, which show that two-thirds of suburban poverty is in nine municipalities. New Britain is by far the largest with more than 14,000 people under the poverty line. The others, in order:

East Hartford

Middletown

Bristol

Manchester

West Hartford

Enfield

Mansfield

Vernon

The problem with poverty is being poor, of course, and the location doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse but the authors of the book and Washington, D.C.-based Brookings, make the case that services for the poor are focused in cities and are absent from some suburbs that are seeing a rise in poverty. So, while not as concentrated as the problems that led to the War on Poverty nearly a half-century ago, today’s poverty is in some ways harder to attack, and harder for the people living in it because they may be isolated.

 

“All the basic supports that helped us survive, that in many cases are legacy assets of urban societies, are blank,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, which supports suburban poverty programs. “People are living no better off but without a safety net.”

Elizabeth Kneebone, co-author of the book, pointed out that there are programs that work in places like Seattle, Houston and Chicago, but they require regional cooperation. That’s not a strong suit in Connecticut.

The rise in the last decade is certainly not just a matter of hard times, the authors said. And it’s not just a matter of poverty spreading out from the cities to the suburbs. If that were true, urban poverty would be further down, and growth of suburban poverty would be worse than it is in the northeast — because cities such as Boston, Hartford, Providence and Springfield are smaller in area than typical cities across the country.

The fact that the rise of suburban poverty is multifaceted and complex is highlighted by the list of metro areas with the fastest rise in the last decade — a very diverse group with different reasons for the rise:

Metro Area 2000 (Suburban Poor) 2011 % Change
Atlanta         301,294          780,078 159%
Austin, TX           42,578          103,248 143%
Salt Lake City, UT           47,633          115,109 142%
Las Vegas           89,802          214,883 139%
Denver           68,611          163,434 138%
Phoenix         117,445          275,085 134%
Boise City, ID           27,191            62,459 130%
Provo, UT           17,403            39,784 129%
Minneapolis-St. Paul           89,895          204,901 128%
Detroit         211,377          453,784 115%

 

The Annual Minimum Wage Debate, With A Twist

by Categorized: Jobs, Labor, Poverty Date:

The year’s first hearing on Connecticut’s minimum wage is happening at the state Capitol Thursday afternoon, and the battle lines are unchanged from 2012, with a twist.

Again this year, advocates — led by Connecticut Working Families, which rolled out its coalition before the hearing — are pushing for more than they will get.  The main bill calls for the minimum to rise from the current $8.25 an hour to $9, then $9.75 a year later. Then it would be indexed for inflation.

The minimum wage has basically tracked inflation since 1950 but as each year passes without an increase, the wage falls behind. The two increases shown on the far right were last year's proposals, which failed -- not the actual wage.

The minimum wage has basically tracked inflation since 1950 but as each year passes without an increase, the wage falls behind. The two increases shown on the far right were last year’s proposals, which failed — not the actual wage.

That would catapult Connecticut ahead of Oregon, at $8.95 the state with the highest minimum. As it stands now, just 16 states have pay floors higher than that of the federal government, which is at $7.25 for the fourth straight year.

It’s more likely that the debate at crunch time will come down to more modest raises of 25 cents a year, and even that will be a battle, just like last year when the votes fell short in the state Senate.  States are falling over each other to squeeze low-wage workers and pour money into the hands of businesses, and the business lobby won’t let Connecticut lawmakers stand as outliers.

The difference this year is pressure that can’t be resisted any longer. We’ve now had the same minimum for four years, and Massachusetts is into its sixth year at $8.  New York and New Jersey, which match the federal level,  are also due for increases and the pressure will be great in those states.

(Click here for the state-by-state chart going back to 1968.)

 

So, even if you believe in keeping low-wage workers right where they are, a 25-cent raise would do exactly that because costs are rising.

Economically, it makes sense to raise the minimum to a level that allows people to get by, for obvious reasons.  We’re not talking about raising taxes here, so there’s no argument that it would drain the economy.

On the contrary, everyone knows that poor people spend every dollar they have, boosting the economy, while companies have to be begged, bribed and cajoled to invest even if they have huge troves of cash.  You can’t blame them, but there comes a time when we have to think about the economy.

There’s no viable argument that raising the minimum creates an onerous burden for businesses. That’s just silliness, disprovable with simple math. The trouble, of course, is that no state can afford to be too far out front on the wage, so economic logic falls flat when we give companies one more little reason to flee, or to not come here.

So it’s a game of chicken.  That the hearing came at the same moment when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was in East  Hartford announcing $1.5 billion for science, math and technology at UConn, is a pairing that should be lost on no one. We spend freely to build up crucial strengths in some areas but not others.

What’s needed is a raise in the federal minimum, which would narrow the penalty on Connecticut for doing the right, and smart, thing.  And we could end this recurring idiocy by indexing the minimum wage to inflation once and for all.