Connecticut must address the severe poverty in its inner cities and the achievement gap in its urban schools if it is to have any chance of staying competitive in the 21st century, a group of human service professionals said Tuesday during a gathering at the Capitol.
When people talk about Connecticut having the largest racial and ethnic achievement gap in the country when it comes to fourth- and eighth-grade academic skills, few may fully appreciate how that will impact future job growth, leaders at the Connecticut Association for Human Services said.
And when folks discuss how Connecticut's wealthiest families earned more than 10 times the income of the poorest family in 2005 — establishing Connecticut's income disparity as the second-worst in the country — the ramifications of that on the state's economy may not be immediately clear, officials said.
But association officials said there is a direct link between a strong educational system, family stability and economic growth, and Connecticut must bring disparate groups together — business, social services, faith-based groups and representatives of the working poor — if it is going to adequately respond to the urgent need for change.
The association, which works to end poverty and empower families, said the state's 169 towns need to start considering regional solutions to improve public transportation, expand affordable housing and increase job training in order to build a capable work force that can compete in the current global economy.
Getting the legislature to adopt an effective earned-income, tax credit for working families and to expand critical child-care and early childhood-education programs for all families regardless of income would also help stabilize poorer families that have repeatedly failed to break out of poverty and cost the state millions of dollars in social services each year.
"Leaders across different sectors are issuing a wake-up call: Connecticut's economy isn't growing," said Jim Horan, the association's executive director. "Too many families don't have access to prosperity. And research is now showing that a gap between rich and poor, on the order of what we have here in Connecticut, brings the whole economy down."
Horan spoke during a morning conference at which the association released a report titled "Connecting the Dots: Growth, Work and Prosperity" as well as its annual KIDS COUNT assessment of Connecticut family well-being.
The situation has been exacerbated by the continued flight of talented young professionals who are leaving Connecticut to work and live elsewhere, said Jude Carroll, Connecticut KIDS COUNT director. According to the Office of Workforce Competitiveness, the number of Connecticut workers between age 18 and 34 dropped by 211,000, or 23 percent between 1990 and 2005. A great many of the young adults who remain lack the post-secondary education or job skills necessary to support Connecticut's current and future work force, the association's report said.
"This is no longer a social-only discussion, this is now an economic competitiveness discussion," said Thomas Phillips, president of Capital Workforce Partners in Hartford. "Our region is going to lose 15 percent of its work force through demographic change. And what are businesses going to do? Those that can move elsewhere will."
Liberty Bank President Chandler Howard said maintaining a viable work force is critical to anyone doing business in the state.
"All these issues are important," Howard said. "Every business wants to operate in a healthy economy. When you have a segment of the community mired in poverty, it pulls everyone down."
A copy of the association's full report can be found on the Internet at http://www.cahs.org/documents/2007KCReportConnectingtheDots.pdf
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at