Despite any and all of its recent shortcomings, the state of Connecticut has won one title this year. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, Connecticut has the dishonor of being the state with the most income inequality. Specifically, we have the largest gap between the richest 1 percent and the poorest 99 percent in the whole country.
This time, we just barely came out ahead of those that usually overshadow us – Massachusetts and New York. New York still has a worse ratio between these two figures, but we have a larger gap. With this, the problems that have plagued the state for decades are now brought to light.
Of course, being in the company of Massachusetts, New York and California (also in the top five states) would not usually be a bad thing. Indeed, the gap between richest and poorest does not say anything about the absolute incomes of either group. While West Virginia has the lowest gap according to the study, it also has the lowest average income in the United States.
Still, this statistic is revealing and validates too many of the issues that Connecticut is going through. It is correlated to everything from hot-button issues like rising taxes to those more insidious and ignored. Even the University of Connecticut, for all of its tension with the state in recent years, has a part to play.
With this information, the strain of taxes becomes clear. Those with the money and power to push through change in policy or community have no reason to care – they make an average of $2.5 million apiece. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people are suffering, or at least have to carry the burden of these taxes. Vice and sales taxes take out a much larger proportion of the incomes of the lower 99 percent than they do for those at the top. Even after collection, the needs of the two groups vary greatly. Connecticut may have pretty great education, but they struggle as much as any state when it comes to providing effective social programs. All of this serves as evidence of a huge disconnect among the different groups in the state, a disconnect quantified by income inequality.
These plights extend past just money. The South may be known for their history of racial tensions, but segregation is a hugely underrepresented problem for rich, white states like Connecticut. The reason why Connecticut is known as the state of pretty autumns, huge manors and good education is because we have historically hidden away immigrants, minorities and the poor in failing cities. Socioeconomic and racial boundaries in Connecticut are very clearly defined in places like New Haven, but the problem is endemic to the entire state. For many planners and policy-makers in the state, it is very easy to appeal to the high-earning upper classes and ignore those struggling to make it out of the long-standing barriers in their own city. The rampant economic inequality in Connecticut can be explained in large part by segregation and disregard for the lower classes.
Even UConn and Connecticut’s other universities have a role to play in all of this. At this point, I have written on this topic enough times to beat the horse to near-death, but the retention of UConn graduates in Connecticut directs the future prosperity of the state. Unfortunately to this end, the thought on the mind of many UConn students is, I can’t wait to leave this place. When all of the degree-holding, eager graduates leave to find a middle class elsewhere, though, what does that leave the state? Those with too many ties and too much money to care, and those too poor to go. A pretty bleak picture for sure, but the growing income inequality of the state paints exactly that.
Connecticut is still in a good place for now. It is still a rich state with great education and a cozy culture. Reports like those made by the Economic Policy Institute show a larger picture, though. I fear the inequality in the state is representative of Connecticut quickly becoming a husk, the insides being the increasingly strained 99 percent. Just as the rest of the world has, Connecticut has forsaken these people in favor of keeping its image clean. This runs the risk of the whole system crumbling; the only question is if it is too late to stop this.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.