The colored areas of this chart correspond with the colored lines in the two charts at the bottom of this commentary.

There are over 3,600 Hamden households with incomes at less than the federal poverty level. There are also over 8,350 households with annual incomes over $100,000. These figures, alone, however, tell us little about where in Hamden changes to income and poverty are occurring or, for that matter, the magnitude of those changes.

Analysis of Census data for the years 2010 – 2018 for each of Hamden’s 12 Census tracts reveals that residents of some parts of town experience life differently than residents of other parts. In short, it appears there are geographic areas within Hamden that have been systemically relegated to perpetual poverty.

While the town’s high income population has grown larger, several of its neighborhoods have stagnated. The portion of persons in the population having annual incomes below $25,000 has, town-wide, decreased two tenths of a percentage point since 2010 (including a nearly two point upward spike in 2014). The neighborhoods of poverty remain, however, inexorable.

Of the tracts where the largest percentage of households in poverty resided in 2010, four of the five largest concentrations remained in the top five in 2018. Of those where most households earning over $100,000 lived in 2010, all five of them remained in the top five in 2018. This suggests that access to income is significantly location-specific. Where you live can affect your ability to earn money.

In Hamden, as elsewhere, poverty grinds persistent, while residents of properous neighborhoods thrive increasingly better. The phenomenon might be easily dismissed as intuitive, so let’s look at the data. Among the five tracts that include the highest concentrations of poverty, from 2010 through 2018, the average concentration in 2010 was 22.7% of the population. In 2018, this portion was 21.2%, or a reduction of merely 1.5 percentage points. Among the five tracts with the highest concentrations of large incomes, the average in 2010 was 46% and by 2018 the top five averaged 51.6% of their repsective populations. This march upward of nearly 6 percentage points represents almost 4 times the income mobility of those neighborhoods whose households live below poverty level.

The data, when charted, map out clearly where the neighborhoods of persistent wealth and persistent proverty are. Figure 1 illustrates, among other things, that Census tracts 1654 and 1655 (see Figure 3 for a map of all the tracts) have been the persistent home for the largest and most enduring concentration of poverty for many years. Figure 2 shows that higher income populations are more broadly distrbuted within Hamden, with tracts 1659 and 1652 holding stable concentrations of wealth and tracts 1658.02 and 1653 advancing on similar proportions.

It needs little explanation of how relentless poverty creates a vicious cycle of economic loss, health compromises, food insecurity, and a host of other challenges which call for community action. The neighborhoods caught in this cycle are not anecdotes, but are demonstrably experiencing circumstances that keep them without access to the tools of economic development and opportunty made available to other parts of the town. Hamden isn’t the only Connecticut town whose numbers tell this story. This can, though, be our opportunity to lead the way toward a solution.

Dan Smolnik is a tax attorney and a member of the Hamden Economic Development Commission. The views expressed herein are exclusively his own.

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2 Comments

  1. I am curious if this income inequality issue in Hamden, is heavily influenced by those individuals working at Yale. If so, could this huge disparity in income, also be influenced by the large salaries being awarded by a so called nonprofit. In addition to the absence of wealth sharing via property taxes by Yale, having a tax exempt status could exacerbate the problem even more.

  2. Cause or effect? It seems to me that Mr. Smolnik has it backwards. Rather than “where you live can affect your ability to earn money”, it seems more likely to me that “your ability to earn money can affect where you have the ability to live.”

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