Connecticut has more concentrated poverty (and wealth) than most metros

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Wealth and poverty are highly concentrated in Connecticut — more so than in many other large metropolitan areas. And often, those neighborhoods are racially and economically segregated from each other.

For example, 27 percent of top-earning households live in neighborhoods that are predominantly white and wealthy. In other large metropolitan areas, it’s just 10 percent.

Poor residents in greater Hartford and greater New Haven are just as likely to live in an extremely poor, predominantly minority neighborhood as those in greater Detroit or greater Philadelphia.

And there are twice as many affluent — and segregated — neighborhoods in Connecticut as there are poor, segregated ones.

These are findings from a DataHaven study, for which we borrowed methodology from University of Minnesota researchers. They devised a new way of explaining rising neighborhood inequality, highlighting the relative isolation of affluent, white households in 15 major metropolitan areas throughout the United States. We conducted a similar analysis, looking at three metropolitan areas in Connecticut: Bridgeport (Fairfield County), New Haven (New Haven County) and Hartford (Hartford, Tolland and Middlesex counties).

While these three metropolitan areas are not always considered “large” by national standards, Connecticut as a whole is comparable to any large metropolitan area. The crescent-shaped, urban corridor that runs across Fairfield and New Haven counties and then northward to Hartford is larger in population and higher in density than the St. Louis; Portland, Ore; and Baltimore metropolitan areas.

Researchers and policymakers often focus on segregation of racial and ethnic minorities in certain neighborhoods and the disadvantages caused by concentrated poverty. But, in the U.S., those neighborhoods are not as common as the opposite: ones with an unusually large share of wealthy, white households — which are just as important to understand at a local level.

How did we find these segregated poor and rich neighborhoods?

The Minnesota researchers found concentrated affluence by looking for neighborhoods where at least 90 percent of the population is white and the median household income is at least four times the federal poverty line (adjusted for local cost of living). These areas were called “racially concentrated areas of affluence” — or RCAAs.

They found concentrated poverty by looking for neighborhoods where less than 50 percent of the population is white and at least 40 percent of the population has a household income below the federal poverty line. They were called “racially concentrated areas of poverty” — or RCAPs.

Bigger divides in Connecticut than nationwide

When they compared these two groups, they found that these wealthy, mostly white neighborhoods are more common in the U.S. than poor, mostly minority neighborhoods.

In Connecticut, we found that the divide was even starker.

  • There are twice as many segregated, affluent neighborhoods — 80 Census Tracts, accounting for 10 percent of the state’s population — as there are segregated, extremely poor neighborhoods — 41 Census Tracts, accounting for 3 percent of the state’s population.
  • In Greater Bridgeport (Fairfield County), with many wealthy New York City suburbs, there are nearly seven times more concentrated wealthy neighborhoods than poor ones.

We also created a third category of neighborhoods — called “near-RCAPs.” Like RCAPs, these are neighborhoods in which most residents do not identify themselves as white, but in which a slightly smaller fraction of the population (between 20 and 40 percent) has a household income below the federal poverty line. We created this designation because many studies have demonstrated that neighborhoods with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent are just as susceptible to the challenges of concentrated poverty as neighborhoods with at least a 40 percent poverty rate.

Worlds Apart

Segregated affluent and poor neighborhoods represent two extremes in Connecticut.

Characteristics of Connecticut tracts
Category Poor, segregated Wealthy, segregated All CT tracts
—Total Population 113,763 365,043 3,572,213
% of CT population 3% 10% --
Tracts 41 80 833
White 16% 93% 71%
Black 28% 1% 9%
Hispanic 51% 3% 13%
Other race 5% 3% 6%
Annual Household Income $22,301 $120,008 $68,519
Poverty Rate 48% 4% 10%
Households earning $200,000+ per year 3% 35% 9%

While the total population living in poverty is growing more rapidly in suburban areas than it is in cities, the spatial analysis reveals that disadvantaged, racially concentrated neighborhoods are still much more common within older urban centers than in suburbs. Wealthy, segregated neighborhoods are mostly found in suburban towns. Likewise, the rural northeast and northwest regions of the state are mostly devoid of neighborhoods with racially segregated wealth or poverty, at least when considered at the level of a Census Tract.

It’s rare that predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods directly border non-white, impoverished ones — a national trend described by The Atlantic’s City Lab blog, with several neighborhoods usually lying between these two types of neighborhoods. Only in a handful of locations — such Fairfield, Bridgeport and Norwalk — do they border. That said, these neighborhoods often exist in relatively close proximity, as many workers living in Connecticut’s poorer, urban neighborhoods commute to its more affluent suburban areas, which tend to have lower-paying jobs than urban centers, and vice versa.

Comparing 'Concentrated Affluence' in Connecticut to Other Large Metro Areas

Connecticut is a wealthy state with a relatively prosperous middle class, often ranking as the top state in the nation on various measures of health and median income. However, it also has among the nation’s highest levels of income inequality. Further gaps in income by race and ethnicity are well known, but the trends behind the uneven geographic distribution of income by neighborhood are less well-documented.

In Greater Bridgeport (Fairfield County) and Greater Hartford, the share of the population that lives in racially concentrated and affluent neighborhoods is higher than that of most other major cities examined in the Minnesota working paper. Statewide, 10 percent of all Connecticut residents live in racially concentrated, affluent areas; in the 15 large urban regions studied in the Minnesota paper, only an average of 3 percent of the population lives in those areas. These trends can be seen when comparing Connecticut regions to other cities:

Residents in racially concentrated, affluent neighborhoods, by metropolitan area
The three non-Connecticut cities represent the regions with the highest shares of population in racially concentrated, affluent areas, among those in the University of Minnesota paper. Compared to the other Connecticut regions, greater New Haven demonstrates more typical levels of exposure to racially concentrated affluence.
Region Percentage of all residents
Connecticut 10%
15-region sample 3%
Greater Bridgeport 17%
Greater Hartford 13%
Greater New Haven 5%
Boston 8%
Minneapolis 7%
St. Louis 7%
Detroit 5%
Philadelphia 5%
Phoenix 2%

Looking at the neighborhoods where the top-earning households are provides an additional measure of concentrated wealth.

Top-earning households in areas of concentrated wealth
Note: At the University of Minnesota, 15 regions were sampled.
Region Percentage of top-earning households
Connecticut 27%
15-region sample 10%
Greater Bridgeport 37%
Greater Hartford 26%
Greater New Haven 14%
St. Louis 23%
Minneapolis 20%
Boston 19%
Detroit 17%
Philadelphia 16%
Phoenix 8%
Concentrated Poverty and 'Double Jeopardy'

The study also shows that in Connecticut, a substantial share of the population is exposed to extremely high rates of neighborhood poverty. About 3 percent of Connecticut’s total population lives in these concentrated, poor neighborhoods — a rate that matches that of the University of Minnesota’s 15-region sample.

Residents in poor, racially concentrated neighborhoods
Region Percentage of all residents
Connecticut 3%
15-region sample 3%
Greater Bridgeport 1%
Greater Hartford 5%
Greater New Haven 5%
Greater Minneapolis 2%
Greater St. Louis 3%
Greater Boston 1%
Greater Detroit 8%
Greater Phoenix 6%
Greater Philadelphia 6%

Another indication of concentrated regional poverty is the percentage of poor residents who live in a neighborhood of concentrated poverty. This is sometimes known as “double jeopardy,” because of strong evidence that exposure to multiple layers of disadvantage is more deleterious to health, child achievement and well-being than any single indicator of poverty.


Connecticut fares worse than most of the other large cities in the 15-region sample.

Statewide, 15 percent of Connecticut’s poor population lives in a racially concentrated, poor neighborhood. Poor residents of Connecticut’s neighborhoods face among the highest levels of segregation in the nation, similar to the experiences of those living in Greater Detroit and Philadelphia.

Double jeopardy: Percentage of poor residents in areas of concentrated poverty
Region Percentage of poor residents
15-region sample 12%
Connecticut 15%
Greater Hartford 22%
Greater New Haven 18%
Greater Detroit 25%
Greater Philadelphia 22%
Greater Boston 5%
Greater St. Louis 13%
Greater Minneapolis 10%
Greater Bridgeport 8%
Implications and Conclusion

These poor, racially concentrated areas are often the focus of social policy and urban research. But this means that policymakers may overlook the potential impacts of wealthy, segregated neighborhoods.

A high number of racially segregated, affluent neighborhoods “can inhibit the pursuit of region-wide remedies … [and] a sense of shared destiny within a metropolitan area,” writes University of Minnesota researcher Edward Goetz writes in The Atlantic.

The geographic concentration of wealth may direct resources to a small share of the population that lives there, which over time can further inequalities between rich and poor areas, says sociologist Douglas S Massey. “The social worlds of the rich and poor will diverge … [divorcing] the interests of the rich from the welfare of the poor."

In regions where the wealthiest live separately from the poorest, social and financial resources may not be shared to solve regional issues, which can undermine the economic competitiveness of the entire region — like in Oakland County, Michigan, adjacent to Detroit.

In short, spatial divisions can compound economic or ethnic differences, and undermine efforts to improve the lives of populations that face historic and current disadvantages.

And in Connecticut, the evidence suggests residential segregation of families by income is rising more rapidly than elsewhere. A study by Reardon and Bischoff showed that the proportion of New Haven area families living in either “poor” or “affluent” neighborhoods rose from 6.4 percent in 1970 to 30.5 percent in 2007 — one of the most rapid increases of neighborhood income polarization in the country. An animated map by DataHaven shows the rise of neighborhood-level inequality since 1980.

According to Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink, strategies to address racially concentrated affluence and poverty include fair housing and zoning policies that prevent subsidies for new developments that perpetuate existing patterns of segregation, and targeted investments in community development, education, workforce development and transportation in segregated, poor areas to better connect people to economic opportunities.

Additionally, efforts to understand the disparities between neighborhoods in urban regions are crucial to dispel the “[erosion of] empathy” that results from concentrations of affluence and poverty.

Programs like our 2015 Community Wellbeing Survey — a collaborative effort of over 100 partners that will interview nearly 20,000 randomly-selected residents this year to create measures of economic and social well-being across statewide, regional, town, and neighborhood levels – can help identify where equity-driven approaches can make Connecticut a healthier and wealthier place for all residents to live.

Mary Buchanan is the Project Manager and Mark Abraham is the Executive Director of DataHaven, a formal partner of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership with a 25-year history of public service to Greater New Haven and Connecticut. DataHaven's mission is to improve quality of life by compiling, sharing and interpreting public data for effective decision making.

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What do you think?

  • 00000000001

    If you look at the tax policies of Connecticut state government since in 1991 when Republican State Senator William Nickerson got the state income passed in a way that was advocating for the rich, to this current governor for who has made the Connecticut tax system increasingly more regressive with his 2011 tax hikes, the brain trusts of Connecticut state government seem to think that the more regressive the Connecticut tax system, the better Connecticut’s business environment will be. There’s a wide swath of Connecticut residents having a sky-high CT state/local tax burden of 20% of their income, while the rich has a CT state/local tax burden of closer to 7% of their income. The rich don’t appreciate their lower tax burden, and still thinks they pay too much in Connecticut taxes.

  • nana3015

    CT is a lost cause. Too many welfare recipients, not one net new private sector job ever since Weicker implemented the state income tax. We invited welfare, exiled productive and wealthy retirees, and destroyed businesses. Go to any low tax state and see how many refugees from CT are there. If we want to get CT going strong again eliminate the state and estate tax, and reduce welfare eligibility,

    • Peter Mizla

      nana being on welfare is a federal program- some of the low tax states offer a poor quality of life- a bad environment, poor health care choices, and ‘hidden expenses’ – for services that here are included here in local taxes.
      North Carolina taxes groceries and prescription drugs. Your post reeks of racism and exacerbates the problem of wealth and income inequality. There are many in Connecticut who work, pay there bills and struggle.

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  • CT Yankee

    The State should offer every poor person a one-time cash settlement grant of $5000 to leave the state and promise not to return(1*). Such a program would bust the budget by less than 15%(2*). Think about that for a moment… But, it would eliminate the need for MOST social programs and that would reduce the budget in subsequent years by >75%. Seems like a no brainer.

    Connecticut needs to STOP supporting the mindset that we all OWE the poor and those who embrace the culture of poverty. The politicos also need to be held accountable for EXPLOITING those very same poor they claim to be helping! It’s a self perpetuating cycle of degradation, and moral corruption which benefits no one — except — the Progressive-Socialist Politicos, and their craven desire for power.

    Ben Franklin said ‘make the poor uncomfortable in their poverty and they will find a way to escape from it.’ That was true then and it is still true today.

    1* Of course they could physically return to the CT, but they would remain permanently ineligible for any State paid public benefits unless they repay the grant
    2* The recent budget is $40 billion, divided by 3.5 million people or $11,428 per person

    • Nathan Przekop

      113,753 people receiving 5000$ which end up costing hundreds of millions, to force people to leave, reducing taxes drawn from the pockets of the lower class would result in an exponential loss of billions total. Connecticut saves money dishing out food stamps, cash assistance, and welfare.

      • CT Yankee

        … wrote: “Connecticut saves money dishing out food stamps, cash assistance, and welfare.”

        That’s just an insane statement on so many levels I don’t know where to begin refuting it!!!

        The State seizes money from those of us that produce to carry those parasites who do not.

        The State does not *OWE* anyone a living, housing, food, etc… It’s up to the individual(3*) to work, earn, make, or produce an amount of ‘value’ sufficient to support their basic existence.

        The $5k idea is what’s called a ‘buy-out’, a one-time offer to take what’s being offered *NOW* in exchange for a quit-claim of all future claims(4*).

        The only group that *wants* a large number of poor people in the state is the Democratic Leadership! The Dems *NEED* a poverty class to dole out payments to and be seen doing favors for, so they can threaten them with loss of benefits every time an election rolls around.

        3* Stipulate that the offer is extended to all ‘able-bodied’ adults of reasonable intelligence, to deflect complaints that I ‘hate the disabled, mentally ill, infants, the sick, invalids, etc…’

        4* Not to stipulate that there is an actual debt owed to the recipients of the offer, more like pleading ‘no contest’ to a minor traffic infraction thereby saving the trouble of going to court.

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  • Sandy Stokes Lefebvre

    We need to correlate these statistics with measures of health, quality of life: education, community, safety, family experiences, work opportunities with decent waged, access to healthy food, degree of power in the democratic process, and children’s experiences…The neighborhoods and schools need restructuring/ redesigning with community based visions, plans, and a community work force. Ownership of their plans with state wide support. We have to broaden our brotherhood beyond our neighborhoods to our cities, districts/counties, evolving from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric. What we want for our children is what we want for ALL children.