Opportunity limited in Elm City

Economic opportunity in the Greater New Haven area has remained stagnant in the past decade, according to a report released in late September by the nonprofit group DataHaven.

The report, entitled “Community Index 2013,” found that while the Greater New Haven area lost nearly 7,000 jobs between 2002 and 2012, the city of New Haven itself added nearly 4,000 jobs. The report suggests these changes are occurring partially because job opportunities in health care and education are expanding more rapidly than opportunities in other industries. Higher-wage jobs in these sectors tend to concentrate heavily in downtown New Haven, which helps explain the increase in city jobs, the report said.

“The report focuses on the current positions and trends in the region. It’s not designed to offer specific solutions,” Mark Abraham, the executive director of DataHaven said. “What we do want to do is to have a common point of reference for the community.”

The report cites insufficient transportation and expensive housing costs as two of the leading barriers to improved economic opportunity. Efficient transportation is key to economic success in a city because it facilitates access to jobs and goods, Abraham said. He added that this is important for both employees commuting to work and employers who want to have access to a large applicant pool.

According to the report, city residents who lack ready access to a car cannot commute to more than half of the jobs in the New Haven region. The report identified 13,000 “zero car” households within the city limits, and 10,000 more in the surrounding suburbs.

Issues of poor access to transportation affect Connecticut’s economy more broadly, according to Steven Lanza, a professor of economics at the University of Connecticut and the executive editor of The Connecticut Economy.

“To the extent that those are in fact roadblocks for New Haven, that’s true of the state more generally,” Lanza said. “Connecticut as a whole has an aging and deteriorating infrastructure, and few opportunities for mass transit.”

“People view the bus as a last resort,” said State Rep. Roland Lemar, who represents New Haven in the State House of Representatives. Lamar suggested real-time GPS tracking, expanded routes and increased reliability of service might be a few ways in which CT Transit can improve its service.

“Cities across the country that are seeing spikes in job growth happen to be in places that support transit investment,” Lemar said.

Although economic opportunity in New Haven is impeded by the lack of public transit options, the problem is further compounded by the low wages most jobs pay. According to the report, there are currently around 83,000 jobs in the city of New Haven, 57 percent of which pay a living wage.

A living wage job is defined by the report as one that pays in excess of $40,000 per year. The federal government considers families of four with an income of less than $46,000 to be “near poverty,” but the report states that a family of four living in Greater New Haven would need an annual income of more than $79,000 to ensure a secure but modest standard of living.

Of the living-wage jobs in New Haven proper, only 19 percent employ residents of the City of New Haven, and a mere four percent employ residents of low-income neighborhoods in the city.

Ward 2 Alderman and longtime Yale employee Frank Douglass pointed to a need for access to job training in order to expand residents’ employment opportunities. Many employers require some form of previous work experience, Douglass added, even for entry-level positions.

“Yale does require some experience, even coming into ground-level positions like custodial or dining hall positions,” he said.

Of all working people living in the City of New Haven, 26,700 workers, or 61 percent do not earn a living wage.

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