Income disparity in the U.S, or the growing gap between haves and have-nots, is obvious to anyone who cares to look at the numbers and various reports that detail this phenomenon that should be on the radar of every policymaker, journalist and community organizer, as well as anyone interested in the health of local hamlets.
In a brand new study released by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, the issue is brought close to home, for those of us in New England, as the region has experienced the biggest increase in income disparity among eight regions, nationwide, from 1989 to 2004. At both ends of the socio-economic spectrum, New England outpaced the rest of the country, as the wealthiest residents of the six state region saw their incomes growing faster than the rest of the country, while the poorest New Englanders experienced the greatest income losses.
Connecticut topped the New England states, with their $60,528 median household income placing them number two nationally, trailing only New Jersey. New Hampshire, which had been ranked #1 in 2003, fell to the sixth position. The region scored very well and is considered the wealthiest region in the country, surpassing the west (California, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, etc.) in median income levels.
It was interesting, in light of this report, to spend my Saturday afternoon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the epicenter of wealth in New Hampshire’s well-heeled Seacoast. I was meeting my son, who recently moved to Boston. Since Portsmouth is a good halfway meeting point, we decided to grab an early afternoon lunch and talk over some editing work that he’s doing for me for RiverVision Press’s next publishing project. The conspicuous wealth on display was very apparent to me, as I rarely miss an opportunity to observe class differences on display. Just the parking garage where I domiciled my own 10-year-old car was filled with high end sedans, including an abundance of Porsche’s, which you almost see north of the Piscataqua.
Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont now are ranked in the top five nationally, when it comes to income disparity. These bastions of political liberalism now have some of the nation’s largest income gaps. Included in Carsey’s data is a listing of six New England metro areas that placed in the top 20 nationally, for growth in disparity between the rich and each community’s poor. Nashua, New Hampshire, joined New Bedford, Massachusetts and four Connecticut metro areas (Danbury, Waterbury, Stamford-Norwalk and Bridgeport) as areas of growing income disparity, as the region has moved from one of relative income egalitarianism, to one that is divided economically.
From the report, it’s clear to see that “the change in household income distribution in New England and the nation goes beyond simply the 'rich getting richer' and reflects a fundamental shift in the national economy and differences in implications by region. The shift from 'traditional' commodity-based manufacturing to technology and knowledge-based businesses has created a new economic context and structure for New England.”
Once again, another report shows a clear direction for Maine and the region, while at the same time, any efforts to increase R & D and investment in growing the skills of low-end workers is stifled by short-sighted calls by groups with Heritage Foundation affiliations for “slash and burn” policies regarding taxes. In fact, the Carsey’s data shows that finding ways to develop ways to tax the haves is the only hope we have of raising all boats in the region. Also, our sorry attempts at development, ala big-box stores and policies devoted to sprawl-promotion are failing. Unless, of course, your future vision for New England is for our region to become an apocalyptic land of gated communities, with low-wage security guards, manning gatehouses on the edge of growing camps of poverty, the only hedge against rampaging rogues, seeking to acquire the means of survival, through any means possible.