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.

Youth Face Substantial Challenges in Fairfield County, Report Reveals

There are significant unmet needs among the children and youth of Fairfield County, with over 800 students dropping out of high school each year, 1 in 8 youth ages 16-24 unemployed and over 2,600 youth ages 16-19 neither employed nor in school, according to a new report by Connecticut Voices for Children.  Youth well-being differs from town to town and city to city according to the report, commissioned by Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. The outcome disparities “present a threat not only to the children, families and neighborhoods of Bridgeport, but also to Fairfield County,” the report concluded, noting that Bridgeport today educates as many students as Westport, Wilton, Weston, New Canaan, and Darien combined.  The report indicates that Fairfield County’s future lives in its cities and depends very much on the success of its vulnerable children and youth.fairfield county towns

The purpose of the report is to inform and develop Fairfield County's Community Foundation’s Thrive by 25 Program, to help Fairfield County young people achieve self-sufficiency by age 25. The report points out that “Fairfield County’s 100,000 young people ages 16 to 24 face youth unemployment rates between 13.6 percent and 49.5 percent, one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets, and a shortage of living-wage entry jobs.  When large numbers of young adults remain dependent on family or relocate for jobs, their futures are shortchanged and their communities decline.”voices20

Looking across the towns of Fairfield County, large disparities in relative opportunity emerged in the study. Six “very high opportunity towns” stood out clearly among their peers, the report highlighted: Darien, Westport, New Canaan, Wilton, Weston, and Easton are among the wealthiest towns in the United States. Unsurprisingly, few children in those towns face the sort of barriers to opportunity children typically face in Bridgeport, Stratford, Norwalk, Stamford, and Danbury, the report said.

Five relatively “low opportunity towns” also stood out: on nearly every indicator they fell in the bottom third of Fairfield County’s 23 towns. “Even more disturbing,” the report emphasized, these “low opportunity towns” were home to racially concentrated areas of poverty: “not only is youth opportunity lower, but that lower opportunity affects mainly children of color,” the Voices report indicated.

The 27 page report includes town-by-town breakdowns for each of Fairfield County’s 23 municipalities, including breakdowns of specific data for 20 distinct factors in the areas of Family, Community and School.  The assessment includes the percentage of the population that includes families in poverty, unemployment, housing unaffordability, preschool experience, median income and on-time graduation from high school.

The report indicated that Danbury has the highest proportion of students learning English in Fairfield County (21 percent), and a rate of student arrest twice that of Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford.  Over one-third of Danbury children live in households with income below 200 percent of the poverty level, which is $47,700 for a family of four.  Among the other data revealed in the report:

  • Bridgeport is the city in Fairfield County with the greatest need, with over 1,100 disconnected youth 400 annual high school dropouts and a youth unemployment rate of 17 percent.
  • Shelton (13%) and Wilton (17%) have exceptionally high rate of chronic absenteeism – on par with cities like Norwalk (12%) and Stamford (15%).
  • Redding performs exceptionally low on housing affordability compared to other high opportunity towns, with almost half of housing unaffordable (45 percent).
  • Stamford’s teenage pregnancy rate (3 percent of total births) is lower than in many suburban towns.thumb55dcc3167d80c

The comparison between Bridgeport’s youth and their counterparts in Westport is striking.  Bridgeport educates a student population of which nearly 40 percent never attended preschool and almost 80 percent of third graders failed to score proficient in reading, drawing from a property tax base less than one-sixth the size per pupil of Westport. In Westport, barely 5 percent of students miss preschool and only 17 percent of third graders fail to score proficient in reading. While over 400 students drop out of Bridgeport high schools each year and only 18 percent of Bridgeport students complete college within six years, Westport reports only 4 high school drop-outs per year and a 71 percent college completion rate.

threeConnecticut Voices for Children is a research-based think tank that focuses on issues that affect child well-being, from educational opportunity to healthy child development to family economic security. Its mission is to ensure that all of Connecticut’s children have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

To assess specific obstacles to youth opportunity in Fairfield County and to prepare the way for new solutions, Connecticut Voices for Children constructed a Youth Opportunity Index containing over two-dozen indicators from the U.S. Census Bureau, State Department of Education, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others. Guided by existing research, the researchers, including Ellen Shemitz, J.D., Nicholas Defiesta, and Wade Gibson, J.D., compiled family, community, and school indicators for every town in Fairfield County.

The study also assessed three measures of the number of disconnected youth in each town: the annual number of high school dropouts, the number of youth, ages 16-19 neither employed nor in school, and youth unemployment (ages 16-24). For each indicator, they assessed towns’ standing relative to one another. They then looked across indicators and assessed how each town stacked up relative to others in Fairfield County. In addition, Fairfield County as a whole was compared with the broader State of Connecticut.