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A New Look At CT Poverty, With Some Surprises


January 25, 2013

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.”

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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