Datahaven report reveals soaring racial, economic, regional disparities in local residents’ general wellbeing
Spanning issues related to life factors like health, housing and access to education, the report aims to mobilize policymakers.
Courtesy of DataHaven
The nonprofit Datahaven released its latest Community Wellbeing Index report for the Greater New Haven region on March 3, exposing deepening disparities in the quality of life for residents of different demographic groups.
Locals of different racial backgrounds, income levels, residential areas and age groups were assigned “Wellbeing Index Scores,” which researchers calculated by assessing trends across a variety of social determinants. Factors taken into account included education access and outcomes, poverty rates, encounters with the criminal justice system, homelessness and experiences with the healthcare system, all of which demonstrated stark differences in the overall wellbeing of those living in the same region.
The city of New Haven scored 389 out of 1000 on the Community Wellbeing Index, far lower than the scores of other Greater New Haven towns — most of which scored above 900 — and the state as a whole.
“It’s sobering how some of the big issues of today are revealed in this survey, like the housing prices — how the rents have risen and just how high the cost burden is,” said Matthew Higbee of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, who helped write the report. “We just think that accurate and reliable data about our community is essential for marking progress.”
The report combined the individual responses of over 40,000 residents to Datahaven surveys and live interviews with records from local police departments, state and local departments of education and public health, housing and real estate agencies, the U.S. Census and other public sources.
Using such sources, the Index includes scores from 0 to 1000 on “community wellbeing,” which takes into account statistics on social determinants like homeownership and childhood poverty, as well as “personal wellbeing” based on community members’ self-reported experiences.
Within Greater New Haven, the Black and Latine populations received lower well being scores than the white population, which researchers and community figures attributed to a long history of systemic racism. The report also highlighted forms of racial segregation throughout neighborhoods that impact the quality of life, which Datahaven Executive Director Mark Abraham tied to redlining.
“Many neighborhoods in Connecticut for a long time wouldn’t allow people of color to move into them,” Abraham told the News. “And there are many other policies that basically prevented especially black residents in the state from accumulating wealth over time. And that’s also particularly evident if you look at things like, does the neighbor have healthy trees and parks? So neighborhoods that are well off often have well maintained trees, and that affects your health.”
White residents of Greater New Haven are far more likely to live near other white people than any other demographic group, according to the report. Low-diversity, whiter neighborhoods were also more likely to be higher income.
New Haven residents generally experience more economic hardship than residents of neighboring towns and the state. According to the report, one-quarter of New Haveners live in poverty and 49 percent are considered low-income; in Connecticut, both the poverty rate and low-income rate are under half of the New Haven statistics.
“A lot of times people will think of Connecticut as a prosperous area, which it is overall, but you still have communities that are struggling within the state,” Abraham said.
In several areas, the report demonstrated the detrimental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on community-wide prosperity, as well as its role in exacerbating social disparities. From 2020 to 2022, home prices rose seven times faster than they did in the previous two years; monthly rents rose over three times faster. Although governments aimed to alleviate the burden of housing costs during the pandemic through eviction moratoriums, monthly eviction filings eventually began to far surpass pre-pandemic levels.
“Chronic absenteeism” — which occurs when a student misses at least ten percent class time in a school year — skyrocketed due to the pandemic, most acutely impacting Black and Latine students, as well as those eligible for free and reduced price meals. Despite a return to in-person learning, rates have remained high.
“Regardless of where that trend goes in the next few years, there’s some sort of concern that it may have an impact on families for many years, because that was just a lot of school missed,” Abraham said. “Over five or 10 years, that can impact whether people will have graduated, or be prepared to go to college.”
Abraham additionally emphasized the importance of incorporating holistic measures of wellbeing into scores, which Datahaven prioritized through surveys and interviews with individuals.
These measures focused on self-reported experiences, with the report finding relationships between one’s race or income and the likelihood of having reliable access to transportation, experiencing mental health problems and experiencing threats of eviction, for example. A higher percentage of people of color reported having issues with each of these life factors than white people did.
Experiences with gun violence also heavily influenced residents’ trust in their local communities and feelings of overall safety. 13 percent of New Haveners reported witnessing a shooting in the past year, and 47 percent of residents stated they feared gun violence. While 87 percent of Connecticut residents agreed that they trust their neighbors, only 67 percent of New Haven residents said the same.
At a DataHaven report launch at the state capitol on March 13, researcher Kelly Davila spoke about the relationship between experiences with shootings, feelings of personal safety, incarceration and housing stability in regions, emphasizing that various wellbeing factors are intertwined.
“Research increasingly shows that housing stability — both in terms of financial stability for people in homes and also housing rehabilitation — is linked to a reduction in gun violence,” Davila said. “We see the same relationship and trends in areas where people report that it’s a nice place to raise children and areas where you feel safer at night.”
Surveys also asked for residents’ personal outlooks on community-wide issues, including whether they thought local children would find success later in life, whether they believed other community members would find suitable access to employment and whether they approved of the local police and government.
As compared to 76 percent of white residents, 54 percent of Latine residents and 45 percent of Black residents in Greater New Haven said they approved of the local police, with an average of 68 percent approval across the region. The rate of police approval in Connecticut as a whole was even higher at 75 percent. In the city of New Haven, it was 42 percent.
Contributors and researchers emphasized that they hope report findings guide policymakers, especially with regards to addressing deep-rooted social and economic inequities.
“I hope [leaders] aim to have outcomes that reduce disparities that we see in the index based on race and where people live,” Higbee said. “It’s really everybody in every organization, both in government, nonprofit, and in the private sector, thinking about ways of working differently so that we can as a society start to reduce the disparities that we’re seeing and create more opportunity.”
As of 2020, New Haven is home to about 135,081 people.