In last 35 years, a significant drop in middle-income neighborhoods

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From 1980 to 2013, the percentage of Connecticut residents living in neighborhoods of concentrated wealth or poverty grew by 30 percent, according to a new analysis from DataHaven.

Meanwhile, the percentage of residents living in middle-income neighborhoods shrunk 7 percent.

These trends show that income inequality is a chronic issue — and that the polarization of Connecticut neighborhoods is growing. Studies show that this concentration of wealth and poverty causes several negative outcomes. Among them are poor health and high crime in areas of extreme poverty, and the concentration of regional resources in very affluent neighborhoods for richer residents.

Additionally, our recently published analysis that compared Connecticut to a national study of racially concentrated affluence showed that Connecticut faces racial segregation along income lines that in many ways surpass those of other large metropolitan areas.

So what exactly has changed in the last 35 years?

  • In 2013, 40 percent of Connecticut residents lived in neighborhoods with an average family income near the state average, a sharp drop from 56 percent of residents in 1980. This represents a 28 percent decrease since 1980.
  • In 2013, 25 percent of Connecticut’s total population lived in extreme-income neighborhoods, those at one or the other end of the income scale, up from 19 percent in 1980 — a 30 percent increase.
  • This included 10 percent of the population who lived in very affluent neighborhoods in 2013 — a 47 percent increase from 1980.
  • And 15 percent who lived in very poor neighborhoods in 2013 — a 20 percent increase since 1980.

On top of this, the share of residents who are poor and live in an area of concentrated poverty — what we call “double jeopardy” — grew 66 percent since 1980, to 4 percent of all Connecticut residents. This is the group that experienced the fastest rate of growth.

How we categorized neighborhoods

DataHaven categorized every census tract in Connecticut based on average family income and poverty rate — and we did it for 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2013. A census tract has about 4,000 people, and aims to align with neighborhood boundaries; we used a special database that adjusts for the Census Bureau’s frequent changes to these small geographic boundaries over time. We borrowed the categories below from a recent Stanford University report:

  • Very affluent: A neighborhood (defined as a census tract) in which the average family income is at least 1.5 times the statewide average.
  • Above State Average A neighborhood in which the average family income is between 1.25 and 1.5 times the statewide average.
  • Near State Average: A neighborhood in which the average family income is between 0.8 and 1.25 times the statewide average.
  • Below State Average: A neighborhood in which the average family income is under 0.8 times the statewide average, but less than 20 percent of the population lives in poverty.
  • Concentrated Poverty: A neighborhood in which at least 20 percent of the population lives in poverty.
Greater Hartford tops regional inequality growth

Over this period every region has experienced these expanding inequality trends. Greater Hartford (Hartford, Tolland and Middlesex counties) had the largest growth of residents living in extreme-income neighborhoods. From 1980 to 2013, the percentage of people living in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods grew by 55 percent. In both Greater New Haven (New Haven County) and Greater Bridgeport (Fairfield County), the percentage grew by 21 percent.

Explore the data in the graphic at the top of this story.

The degree of concentrated affluence or poverty varies between regions. For example, a remarkably high share of Greater Bridgeport lives in extreme-income neighborhoods: 42 percent were in these extreme-income neighborhoods in 2013, compared to 21 percent in Greater Hartford and 22 percent in Greater New Haven.

Only 9 percent of residents in all other Connecticut towns (Litchfield, New London and Windham counties) live in either very rich or very poor neighborhoods. But in these areas, as well, this share has increased significantly — by 51 percent since 1980.

Where extreme-income neighborhoods are located

Many neighborhoods were middle-income neighborhoods in 1980, but became very affluent by 2013. These areas are scattered around the state, but are most numerous in Greater Bridgeport — along the coast and bordering New York — and northwest of Hartford. There are also small pockets of newly affluent neighborhoods southwest of Hartford, east of New Haven and along the northern New York-Connecticut border.

Since 1980, concentrated poverty neighborhoods have mostly been clustered together, in and surrounding urban centers. By 2013, many previously middle-income urban and suburban neighborhoods had transitioned to concentrated poverty areas. Consequently, from 1980 to 2013 the contiguous poor district in each city expanded – most notably in Hartford, New Britain, Waterbury, New Haven and Bridgeport. A few concentrated poverty neighborhoods in isolated rural pockets around the state also grew from 1980 to 2013.

According to the 2013 Greater New Haven Community Index, while the potential responses to these changes are widely debated at all levels of society, it is clear that Connecticut has been experiencing faster polarization of neighborhoods by income level than many other regions have. If Connecticut had managed to preserve its middle-income neighborhoods over the past 30 years, far fewer of our children today would be growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

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.

This analysis is based on information from the Neighborhood Change Database (NCDB) 2010 created by GeoLytics and the Urban Institute with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, 2012.

We welcome contributors to share data, analysis and perspectives that follow our guidelines.

What do you think?

  • lleni pach miller

    Excellent work, painful path of segregation and iinjustice

    • Rick Stathers

      I don’t understand the injustice part of your comment. This is normal demographics caused by terrible public policy in CT over that time period. Many in the middle class have moved away, replaced by lower income people, that migrate to the lower housing cost areas and the entitlement programs we have put in place. Areas like East Hartford and Manchester used to be solid middle class communities, with great middle class jobs at Pratt & Whitney and machine shops throughout the region. Jobs in Hartford at Travelers, Phoenix, Aetna, Hartford Mutual, Hartford Steamboiler, and the large banks were solid middle class jobs. But so many of these jobs have been moved out of state because the high cost of doing business here. You can try to blame the wealthy that have worked hard, invested well and stayed despite the high taxes, but I think you need to look at the public policies put in place over that time period by the Democrats. You can’t keep taking from the wealthy and the corporations without consequences.

      • lleni pach miller

        I don’t see how and where I mention the Republicans, do you?
        The disparities in income, employment, social displacement are both the responsibility of the
        government, and both parties

        • Rick Stathers

          I didn’t suggest anywhere in my comment that you were mentioning the republicans. I was suggesting that this “injustice” you refer to is the result of poor public policy over the last 35 years. Personally I don’t see it as an injustice nor the responsibility of government. We are where we are because of poor government policy. I believe in personal responsibility. Everyone has access to a free education, just stay in school, study hard. Just don’t have children you can’t afford to take care of. Stay out of trouble. There are so many examples of those that have succeeded using that formula. Its possible and it happens. Government, other than a safety net for those in temporarily hard times, or those that cannot take care of themselves, should get government assistance. But the system we have now allows for the masses to stay in the mindset that government will take care of them, no hard work required. Take that policy, add a sprinkle of safe heavens for illegal immigrants, and the recipe is there for a much larger poverty group then we should have in CT.

          • lleni pach miller

            We certainly have different perspectives, about poverty, education and

            immigrations, unfortunately, we understand differently sociological, psychological
            and economic realities,

          • TaxPro

            If you are going to solve a problem you need to first identify it, identify the cause, and come up with a workable solution.
            I believe the reason for the article is to identify the problem. It goes no further than that. So if we all agree that this is a problem, we need to identify the cause and propose some solutions.
            I would have to say that Mr. Stathers has at least given us his opinion on the cause if not a workable solution.
            You seem to be saying that the cause is segregation and injustice. Is this correct?
            If so, do you have a proposed solution?

          • Rick Stathers

            Well said. The problem we have these days is not just identifying the problem, but as you said, agreeing on the cause and coming up with workable solutions. I honestly believe that the self-interest of the people in power overrides any real desire to fix the problem. I look around the State of Connecticut and see so many terrible trends that have been apparent for decades. We continue doing the same thing, take more from those that have succeeded, and give more to support those that haven’t, or more honestly, refuse to try. That policy has apparently made the income gap worse. But the self interest, which is nothing more than the elected official’s desire to be re-elected (why: power and money), overrides any desire to try other approaches. I don’t know about you, but I think this state is lost for good. Its in a death spiral that I don’t see any way out of. Or rather I should say I don’t see our state making the changes necessary to affect the downward spiral. It would take a Scott Walker / Wisconsin change to that, and that won’t a happen.

          • TaxPro

            I remember hearing the noted economist Arthur Laffer say this a long time ago. If Robin Hood keeps stealing from the rich as they ride through the forest, in order to give to the poor, eventually they will stop riding through the forest.
            So Robin Hood will be the champion of the poor until he can no longer deliver the goods because the rich are all taking the detour.
            You may be right. It may take a lot of people and corporations to get taxed and regulated out of CT before everyone can agree that the politicians in power are prescribing the wrong medicine and need to go.

  • Rick Stathers

    Very interesting and well done. To most of us that have lived in Connecticut during that period, it is a trend that has been very apparent. I’m more familiar with the Greater Hartford area, having grown-up in East Windsor, worked in Hartford, reside in Ellington and own a business in South Windsor. As I see it, the smaller “middle class” in Connecticut is caused by two things. The exodus of our young people from the middle class and upper middle class. I would venture to say that at least half of my class mates from 1972 remained in Connecticut. Both my children graduated from Tolland in the early 2000’s, both no longer live or work in CT. In fact based upon their extended network of friends, I would say 90% or greater have moved from the state. This population of young people has been replaced by lower income residents because our state has been unable to attract good paying jobs. The lack of good paying jobs, the growth of our entitlement society, and the public policies of the Democrats who have been in control of this state for the last 30 years is the root of the problem.

  • Threefifths Tes

    How about the gentrification that is going on in New Haven and West Haven that is moving the people out.

    • Dave Baker

      Gentrification. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      Seriously, 3/5, I’m not wasting my time on you not the indie, but in most of North America, at least town where idalogical conflict arises only between uber-liberalism vs democrats, neighborhoods gong from the poverty line to lower middle class is not considered gentrification. Not sure what your base of reference is, but you sound ridiculous, which surprises me because your other repetitive monitory “best election money can buy” in contrast is quite apt.

      • Threefifths Tes

        Do you know what the word means.If you sit on a bench in some neighborhoods you can watch gentification happening right before your

  • Mikey R

    High taxes and a difficult business climate have hurt the middle class in Connecticut. The economic concerns have sent many new college graduates, the future middle class, out of state. If the current policies continue, so will the trend.