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Data Point To Big Changes In Connecticut

August 27, 2004
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

More women who have never married. Bigger paychecks for men, and more rich people overall. Larger Asian, Latino and African American populations. More families in poverty, but also more people owning their homes - and paying a heavier mortgage bill.

Those were some of the demographic milestones, one-third of the way into a new decade, that the U.S. Census Bureau illuminated Thursday as it released a new demographic and economic portrait of Connecticut. The numbers reflect some significant changes in the state's population, and some significant worries as well, observers said.

There was a dollop of good news: The median value of a home in Connecticut topped $226,000 in 2003, up 26 percent since 2000, the Census Bureau said.

"Housing values are up, and for most people that's probably the bulk of their net worth," said Nicholas S. Perna, an economic adviser to Webster Financial Corp.

But with those strong housing prices, as with many of the state's demographic and economic changes, there was a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty quality to the new data. While housing values in Connecticut have climbed, so has the amount of money people pay each month to service their mortgages and pay property taxes. Economists warned that debt could stifle the consumer spending that could boost the state's economy.

The new American Community Survey data, an annual sampling of local, state and national populations that by 2010 is supposed to replace the traditional once-a-decade census "long form," picked up other warning signs for Connecticut's economy.

The census survey estimated the state's unemployment rate at 7.0 percent in 2003, up from 4.3 percent in 2000. The 126,000 state residents that the federal agency estimated to be out of work in 2003 was much higher than the roughly 99,000 unemployed people the state Department of Labor reported for the same period. State officials said they could not explain why the numbers were so different.

The new census statistics, however, are generated using a different methodology and sources of information.

The median income for Connecticut households, adjusted for inflation, was statistically unchanged between 2000 and 2003, according to the new census data - frozen at about $57,000.

"This survey is highlighting what perhaps many of us feel in the seat of our pants, that in fact things are not doing so well in Connecticut, as we struggle ... to pull ourselves out of recession," said Ronald Van Winkle, a West Hartford economist. "Even with the national economy creating jobs, Connecticut seems to be in the same place."

One group that did grow significantly over the past year was the rich: More than one in 20 Connecticut households had incomes topping $200,000. The number of homes in Connecticut worth over $1 million more than doubled, from under 12,000 in 2000 to more than 25,000 in 2003.

But at the same time, the Census Bureau said more than 58,000 Connecticut families were below the poverty line in 2003 - a 24 percent jump since 2001.

"We clearly have to be doing more than what we're doing to make a difference in bringing [the state's poverty rate] down," said Shelley Geballe, co-president of Connecticut Voices for Children, an advocacy group.

Another worrisome trend, some economists said, was the bulge in Connecticut baby-boomers who are approaching retirement age, a warning sign that the state could face higher nursing home costs in the future.

If there was one group that could take cheer at the new numbers, it might be men - especially those looking for a mate.

While median earnings for Connecticut's full-time female workers was statistically stuck over the first three years of the decade, the paychecks for their male counterparts grew about 4 percent more than inflation, to about $51,000 in 2003.

And while the share of Connecticut men who have yet to marry didn't increase between 2000 and 2003, the percentage of adult women who have never married grew.

The Census Bureau estimated there were about 45,000 more single women in Connecticut who are not separated, widowed or divorced in 2003 than three years previously.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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