Connecticut's Disappearing Middle Class

CAFCA | November 19, 2014 |

 This is one of the best times of year to walk through one of Connecticut’s pretty little towns, with the lingering smell of damp leaves and fair-trade coffee hanging in the chilled air.

There is so much beauty in this state, so many communities that still hold their New England charm. But it is amazing how fast you can go from charming to blighted, from rich to poor, in just a few short miles. We are all crowded so close together in this densely populated state, yet we are also so segregated.

Poverty is on the rise in Connecticut. One in eight Connecticut residents is now using food stamps, and we are one of only six states in the nation where food stamp usage went up this past year. Since 2008, food stamp usage in the state doubled from about 220,000 to 440,000 people. 

So we know more people in the state are poor, and we know our rich are still rich, but what about the middle class?

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman is apparently visiting themon her “Put the Middle Class First” bus tour. She’ll have to let us know, when she finds them, whether they’re as excited as she is about all of the policies Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature passed these past three-and-a-half years.

We already know the 2011 tax hikes, which came at the tail end of a brutal recession, have done nothing to help the middle class. And the minimum wage increase she and Malloy helped pass is unlikely to help anyone move into the middle class.

More likely, the increase will help them out of a job, or will give them just enough to pay the higher prices we will all see on our groceries, movie tickets and fast food. 

It isn’t just Malloy and Wyman who gave our middle class residents a reason to leave the state — they’ve been fleeing for decades under Democrats and Republicans alike.

When you follow the money on the Tax Foundation’s migration tool, which uses IRS data, you see that Connecticut lost (net) 193,487 people and their accompanying $8.7 billion in income between the years of 1993 and 2010. (The site only offers data from 1993 to 2010). But it also says the average income of the people who left was $67,704.

It looks like our middle class residents are packing up for warmer climates. Our biggest loss in the 17-year period from 1993 to 2010 was to Florida, which likely welcomed the 98,471 Nutmeggers and their $5.7 billion in income with open, well-tanned, arms.

However, it’s worth noting that the Tax Foundation’s numbers don’t include births or foreign in-migration, which is why we have a net loss to other states while we still see a slight increase in overall population. Connecticut’s population grew from 1990 to 2010 at a rate of about 0.5 percent a year. The Census Bureau reports that Connecticut’s population grew by just 0.6 percent from 2010 to 2013.

Regardless, it isn’t just the state’s high taxes and cost of living that are putting pressure on the middle class. That just makes it worse. Incomes have stagnated for the middle class not just in Connecticut, but globally.

The tech revolution and globalization have combined to make the United States and other wealthy Western economies look a lot more like the developing world, with a widening gap between the rich and the poor. 

Wyman tried to blame Republicans for trying to “pool all our resources at the top with the millionaires and big corporations,” which is ironic given her administration’s handouts to some wealthy businessmen. Again, Democrats and Republicans alike often redistribute wealth upward, which is a gross misuse of our tax dollars.

Wyman, and other Democrats, want to keep riding the income inequality bandwagon, as though what they’re doing is getting rid of poverty everywhere and reinvigorating the middle class. 

The problem is, the outcomes of their policies don’t bear that out.

Connecticut is one of the bluest, most progressive states in the nation. It’s gotten more liberal for years, under a Democratic-controlled legislature and Republican and Democratic governors. And we see the fruits — highest debt per capita, growing poverty, a widening income gap, and a fleeing middle class.

Instead of focusing on a social safety net, now we’re building a lasting infrastructure to maintain people in poverty for decades. But the nagging question is what parts of the social safety net will we be able to keep when our debts start catching up with us.

Enough already. Let’s start talking about opportunity instead of inequality. Let’s start talking about how to make the pie bigger for everybody instead of talking about how to slice it up.