As the events in New Orleans have unfolded and Americans have been forced
to confront issues of racism and economic injustice, this question is worth
pondering: If a monster hurricane bore down on Hartford and a mass evacuation
was ordered, who would be left behind?
Contemplating that scenario isn't some idle exercise, although it's certainly
hoped that no calamity on the order of Hurricane Katrina will befall Hartford
or any other community. But in these dangerous and uncertain times, it seems
no catastrophe is beyond the realm of the imaginable.
So who in Hartford would be left, lacking the transportation and wherewithal
The botched Gulf Coast evacuation may be instructive. Until New Orleans
was submerged two weeks ago, that city and Hartford shared an unhappy distinction
- large indigent populations that are disproportionately minority. In terms
of child poverty, Hartford has the second-highest rate in the country at
41.3 percent. Right behind, until its residents were forced to flee, was
New Orleans, where 40.5 percent of the city's kids were poor by federal standards.
Thus, it's fair to extrapolate that those who would most likely be left
behind in Hartford would be the sick, the elderly and the young. And because
most of them are African American and Latino, the pictures of isolation and
abandonment in Connecticut's capital would look strikingly similar to the
ones we saw of New Orleans after the hurricane hit and the levees burst.
The racial and economic composition of Hartford's population isn't stop-the-presses
news, of course, but the events down South have underscored the urgency of
a problem that is too often overlooked or swept under the rug. Obviously,
the most effective way to break the cycle of urban poverty and dependency
is to create good-paying jobs with benefits. But recent developments on that
front are not encouraging.
First came a U.S. Census Bureau report showing that Connecticut's poverty
rate is increasing at a pretty good clip, as is the number of residents without
Then Connecticut Voices for Children issued
its fifth annual State of Working Connecticut Report, which found that
many state workers are losing ground. Lastly, top economists at a Connecticut
Business & Industry Association
forum last week spoke of weak job growth, with most of the losses coming
in the higher-wage manufacturing and professional sectors and most
of the gains coming in the lower-wage hospitality, retail and leisure sectors.
Together, the one-two punch of rising poverty and stagnant employment could
provide fodder for the '06 governor's race. On taking office last year, Gov.
M. Jodi Rell said job growth would be a top priority. Thus far, her efforts
(whatever they are) have produced negligible results.
"Connecticut's incomplete job recovery and growing wage gaps are threatening
the stability of the state's economy and the well-being of thousands of children," concluded
Connecticut Voices, a research and advocacy group based in New Haven.
The group noted that the five employment sectors showing the greatest losses
in 2004 paid each employee an average of $83,000, compared with $38,181 per
job in the five sectors with the highest employment gains. That trend can't
continue without serious societal consequences. No less than Connecticut's
prized quality of life is at risk.
The same themes sounded by Connecticut
Voices were noted by economists and business leaders at Friday's CBIA conference
in Hartford. John Patrick, CEO of TD Banknorth Connecticut, described job
growth as anemic: "We're
adding some jobs but probably not the kind of jobs we want to see added
in terms of spurring economic growth."
Experts see an even grimmer future. A survey of Connecticut businesses by
Blum Shapiro found that only 25 percent of executives say they expect to
expand their workforces in the coming year, down from 33 percent in 2004.
In addition, a quarter of the respondents say they have job openings but
no plans to fill them because of the state's stifling business climate.
Until Connecticut gets serious about kick-starting its economy, reducing
poverty and creating high-wage jobs, Hartford residents will continue
to be left behind. Better prepare those lifeboats
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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