Disparities Evident As Fairfield County Considers Its Community Wellbeing

Fairfield County’s sizeable immigrant population - twenty percent of Connecticut’s most populous county - grew 89 percent from 1990 to 2014. In some municipalities, foreign-born residents make up as much as a third of the population. That is among the findings in the Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2016, which examined regional demographics, economic opportunity, education, health, quality of life, and happiness.  The report includes analysis of the communities, populations, and neighborhoods of Fairfield County, as well as opportunities available and issues facing the area.

Since 1980, the size of the population living in neighborhoods that are considered most affluent – defined as those with an average family income more than 2.5 times higher than the state level - has tripled within Fairfield County. Meanwhile, the number of people living in poor neighborhoods is 3.5 times its 1980 size. The number of people in middle-income neighborhoods has decreased by sixteen percent.

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, a major funder of the report, partnered with DataHaven, area hospitals, and government agencies to help launch a more robust and comprehensive resource that could serve as a part of the hospitals’ and health departments’ Community Health Needs Assessments as well as a broader county-wide indicators program.

“Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is committed to addressing the most pressing issues facing Fairfield County, but to do that we first need to be able to identify and understand those issues,” stated Nancy M. von Euler, Vice President, Programs, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. “The data in the Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2016 will help us to develop priorities for collective action to build a stronger, healthier Fairfield County where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their zip code.”

The report states that "Despite its overall affluence, Fairfield County is among the nation’s most unequal metropolitan areas. Inequities in well-being appear when evidence is stratified by income, age, race, gender, and zip code. These differences are often most apparent after considering data that were collected specifically for the age groups and neighborhoods that are most impacted."

Among the findings, between 2014 and 2025, adults ages 65 and over are Fairfield County’s only age group projected to grow significantly, with a thirty-seven percent increase. Disparities in the County were also evident:

  • High and rising childcare costs are often prohibitively expensive for low and middle-income families. While Fairfield County has nearly enough spaces for all 3- to 4-year-olds to attend preschool, there are only enough regulated childcare slots for fifteen percent of the county’s children ages 0 to 2, and enough subsidized slots to cover only twenty-two percent of these youngest children in low-income households.
  • The issue of dental care arose as an indicator of well-being, particularly among younger adults and families. The Index shows that for every 10,000 residents living in Fairfield County, 12 residents visit an emergency room to receive treatment for preventable dental conditions in any given year, whereas on the East Side of Bridgeport, 178 residents do.
  • Fairfield County residents are healthy when compared to national benchmarks. However, many conditions and risk factors—such as asthma, food insecurity, exposure to community violence, and the early onset of diabetes—are disproportionately prevalent in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Sections of Bridgeport in particular fall very far behind the surrounding area in many of these measures.
  • Disparities in access to reliable transportation persist between racial and income groups. A majority of Fairfield County workers, regardless of income, commute to another town for work. Many low-income (annual wages under $40,000) workers leave Bridgeport for work, while large shares of high-income workers commute to New York City.

“The process of developing this report allowed local partners and community members to identify links between the well-being of residents and the places where they live. Looking beyond typical measures like income levels or unemployment rates, the Community Wellbeing Index reveals a much more uneven distribution of opportunities in areas such as neighborhood walkability, economic development, public health, and education,” said Mark Abraham, Executive Director of DataHaven and a lead author of the report. “The impact that these barriers to opportunity have on overall well-being and happiness will serve as a call to action for many groups working to improve Fairfield County’s diverse neighborhoods and towns.”

The Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2016 was based on a variety of federal and statewide data sources. Partners of DataHaven’s Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2016 include Fairfield County’s Community Foundation; Bridgeport Hospital; Danbury Hospital; Greenwich Hospital; Norwalk Hospital; St. Vincent’s Medical Center; and Stamford Hospital.

Economic Divide Evident in Comprehensive Statewide Survey; Residents Generally Happy in CT, But 1/3 Face Barriers, Financial Challenges

The largest-ever quality of life survey of Connecticut residents, conducted during the past six months,  has found that four out of five adults report feeling happy and satisfied with where they live; but one-third of adults report just barely or not getting by financially.  The disparities in quality of life across the state’s population were a constant running through the survey results. In-depth interviews were completed with 16,219 randomly-selected adults in every Connecticut city and town. Although Connecticut does well when compared to national and international averages of health, income, and education, survey officials said, results reflect that disparities are still great, with a sizeable share of residents continuing to face significant barriers to economic success, safety, health, and other critical aspects of well-being.datahaven

The 2015 DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey, which asked more than 100 questions of survey respondants, created a detailed portrait of social and economic conditions in towns throughout Connecticut and adjacent sections of New York State.  DataHaven, a non-profit group leading the collection and study of neighborhood-level public data on key social and economic trends, undertook the survey with assistance from Sienna College in New York. It is said to be the most intensive effort of its kind in the United States, according to the survey’s leaders.  Among the key findings:

  • 74% of men and 75% of women in Connecticut report feeling mostly or completely happy during the previous day. However, this measure varied widely by income, ranging from 53% among adults earning less than $15,000 per year to 89% among adults earning $200,000 or more.
  • Although official unemployment rates have fallen substantially since 2012, 14% of Connecticut workers are still considered “under-employed,” meaning that they have no job and would like to work or they are currently working part-time but would prefer to have a full-time job. Within the Greater New Haven region, the “under-employment” rate among workers fell from 21% in 2012 to 13% in 2015.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of Connecticut residents say that they are either doing alright or living comfortably when asked how they are managing financially these days. However, 11% are finding it difficult or very difficult, and an additional 21% say that they are just getting by.
  • Many in Connecticut still struggle to afford food, adequate housing, and reliable transportation. One out of every ten adults identifying as white or Asian-American, and one out of every four adults identifying as African-American or Latino, reported that they did not have enough money to buy food for themselves or their family at some point during the past 12 months – in some cases, facing this situation almost every month of the year. About 6% of adults reported that they did not have enough money to provide adequate housing for themselves or their family, and 13% reported a lack of reliable transportation, at some point in the past year.survey_says

“The purpose of the DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey is to produce the highest-quality, neighborhood-level information on issues that are most meaningful to local residents,” explained Mark Abraham, Executive Director of DataHaven.  Abraham also pointed out that “the initiative is helping to strengthen collaborations between dozens of organizations and agencies that are working together to measure social progress and improve population well-being at the statewide and local levels.” The metrics in the survey complement traditional statistics on topics such as employment, personal income, reported crimes, tax base, and industry output.

More than 50 of Connecticut’s leading foundations, hospitals, community institutions, and government agencies have supported the survey initiative.  Major funders are located in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford, Waterbury, New Britain, Norwalk, Danbury, Greenwich, Middletown, Derby, Bristol, Norwich, New London, Manchester and other cities across the state.

The survey also found that residents of some urban neighborhoods have substantially lower rates of overall satisfaction with where they live as well as much greater concerns about government responsiveness, police effectiveness, and public services. On the other hand, cities such as Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, and New Haven have relatively higher proportions of adults who are optimistic that their neighborhood is improving, and residents of higher-income neighborhoods within these city centers are in some cases significantly more satisfied with local quality of life than the average resident.

Connecticut"The Connecticut Council for Philanthropy along with other funding partners invested in the first ever statewide Community Wellbeing Survey, a scientific survey of the state’s entire adult population that will provide timely, powerful knowledge about our communities and enable us to better know the people and places we care about,” added Maggie Osborn, President of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy.

In a departure from most statewide and national surveys, officials said, the DataHaven program brings together existing grassroots efforts across the state – effectively unifying more than a dozen pre-existing regional or local surveys into a single, high-quality effort that now covers all areas in Connecticut. The power of the survey results was greatly enhanced both by the number of respondents, as well as by having the same questions being asked of respondents in many different areas.

DataHaven designed its 2015 Community Wellbeing Survey with the support of nearly 100 local government, academic, health-care, and community partners as well as a panel of epidemiologists and survey research experts. The 20-minute survey, conducted by the Siena College Research Institute (SRI) in Loudonville, New York, involved landline and cell phone interviews with nearly 17,000 randomly-selected adults throughout Connecticut and adjacent sections of Westchester County between April and October, 2015.