Low-income workers in the Elm City must commute to work more often than those who earn living wages, according to a recent report by DataHaven, a New Haven-based nonprofit analysis group.
DataHaven’s 2016 Greater New Haven Community Index shows that in New Haven, 47 percent of workers that earn a living wage of at least $40,000 a year commute to another town for work, while 66 percent of workers earning a lower salary commute outside the Elm City. As a post-industrial city that continues its transition from producing goods to providing services, New Haven continues to struggle with job sprawl — the relocation of entry-level jobs to the suburbs. According to the index, bus-route inefficiencies and financial inability to purchase vehicles deter residents’ ability to commute to these jobs.
In response, the city wants to bring more entry-level jobs to New Haven and improve public transportation so residents can more easily commute to work.
“Restaurants and the other kinds of personal services that people need to support where they live can be much more local,” New Haven Economic Development Director Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 said.
Although job sprawl has existed in New Haven and throughout Connecticut in the past, University of Connecticut Urban and Community Studies Director Edith Barrett said she believes that trend is reversing. According to Barrett, entry-level jobs will continue to rise in both the service and health care industries in cities around Connecticut.
DataHaven’s report showed that the health care industry expanded more than any other industry from 2000 to 2014 in the Greater New Haven region. Health care jobs increased by 18 percent in New Haven, representing an increase of over 10,500 jobs. Jobs in the educational-services industry increased by about 8,500 in the same time period, a 20 percent increase. Most of the growth took place between 2000 and 2008.
“Little by little, more jobs are moving into the city,” Barrett said. “We’re not having the same bleed we had before.”
The two industries that employ workers below the living wage have seen much smaller growth than both the health care and education industries. These are retail trade as well as accommodation and food services, where workers earn $30,000 and $18,000, respectively. In comparison, workers in the education and health care industries both earn above the living wage. On average, workers in educational services earn $67,000 and those in health care earn $49,000.
Although retail trade lost more than 900 jobs between 2000 and 2014, the number of jobs in accommodation and food services increased by nearly 4,000 during that same time period.
In the meantime, to accommodate those who have to commute outside of New Haven to work, Mayor Toni Harp’s administration is working to create a more efficient transportation system, said Doug Hauslauden ’04, director of the New Haven department of transportation, traffic and parking.
For the short term, the city has added street signs to improve walkability for pedestrians and has installed a GPS tracking system on the CT Transit bus system that connects much of the city to Union Station, Hausladen said. He added that New Haven city officials are studying how to make city streets more efficient for buses. For example, contraflow bus lanes, which run opposite of mainstream traffic, may replace some downtown parking. Hausladen said he hopes that this will save each passenger 10 to 15 minutes per bus trip.
Looking more to the future, Greater New Haven will undergo a $1 million transit mobility study called “Move New Haven” with the support of the Federal Transit Administration, Hausladen said. In January 2014, the region received a grant to fund the study, and the first phase was set to start in September 2016, according to the project’s website.
He said the study’s results could recommend the installation of a bus rapid transit system similar to the CTfastrak currently operating in Hartford. CTfastrak is a system of bus routes that run through bus-only roads and is also integrated with the CTtransit system. According to Barrett, this type of system helps improve transit efficiency.
“Move New Haven” is scheduled for completion in January 2018.