[Excerpt of front page article by Brian Zahn, Sunday, October 3, 2021]
WEST HAVEN — A recent report shows economic and health disparities along racial and ethnic lines in the city, revealing gaps between white residents and Black and Hispanic residents in several indicators of wealth and wellness.
The West Haven 2021 Equity Profile, produced by the New Haven-based non-profit DataHaven, also reports gaps between West Haven residents and the rest of the state on average. Experts say the gaps are in line with historic trends and are not unique to the city.
“What you see in Connecticut and in West Haven in particular is on trend with the rest of the United States,” said Patrick Gourley, an assistant professor of economics at the University of New Haven. “You have a vast disparity between Black and white outcomes, whether it’s housing or income, across the board.”
For example, home ownership is viewed as a means of building generational wealth; according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other data agencies, 66 percent of white heads of household in West Haven own their home compared to 38 percent Black heads of household and 39 percent Latinx heads of household.
The median income for white residents of West Haven in 2019, according to the DataHaven report, was $66,000. For Black residents and Hispanic residents, the median income was $56,000 and $57,000, respectively. However, despite that gap, the median income for Black residents of West Haven was $7,000 higher than the median income for Black residents of the state; Hispanic West Haven residents had a median income $9,000 higher than Hispanic residents of the state.
Meanwhile, the median income for white residents of Connecticut is $90,000 — higher than that of Black and Latinx residents in West Haven and $24,000 higher than white residents of West Haven. The report said the 53 percent of West Haven’s population are people of color, compared to 37 percent of the residents statewide.
Equity and education
Robert Sanders, associate professor and chairman of National Security Department at the University of New Haven, said that the city’s poverty rate of 12 percent, compared to the 10 percent rate across the state, stood out to him in the report. Sanders said addressing poverty is an easy way to increase equity in the city.
“I believe if the city looked at these statistics and indicators of health and decided if we could push forward and reduce our poverty rate, that may have residual effects and wider effects across the overall community,” he said.
Gourley said he believes one of the best way to get residents to own their houses is for them to have good jobs — those jobs, he said, can be found when residents have a good education.
The DataHaven report found West Haven has 14,627 jobs, with the largest share in the health care and social assistance sector. But it also found 42 percent of West Haven’s households are “cost-burdened,” which means they spend at least 30 percent of their total income on housing costs.
“Wages have largely stagnated, especially among lower-income workers who are more likely to rent,” the report says. “As a result, cost-burden generally affects renters more than homeowners, and has greater impact on Black and Latino householders. Among renter households in West Haven, 49 percent are cost-burdened, compared to 34 percent of owner households.”
According to the DataHaven report, there are existing gaps in educational attainment in the city. “Racial disparities in outcomes related to education, housing, and wages result in disparate household-level incomes and overall wealth,” the report found. “Households led by Black or Latino adults generally average lower incomes than white households.”
Further, in 2019 there were 133 suspensions per every 1,000 Black students in West Haven schools compared to 55 suspensions per every 1,000 white students in the district.
Sanders said he believes that data does not paint a good picture for how the city can address inequities.
“When individuals don’t consider themselves to be upwardly mobile or are institutionally unable to move forward, that’s a problem,” he said.
According to Connecticut Department of Education data, 87.5 percent of white students graduated from the high school in four years in 2020, compared to 81.4 percent of Black students and 82.9 percent of Hispanic students. In the last five years, white students in West Haven had the highest four-year graduation rate for racial and ethnic groups except for 2017, when Black students had a slightly higher four-year graduation rate.
Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro said the data shows several improvements — such as a 7.1 point increase in the Hispanic graduation rate over three years — but it also reflects significant gaps between racial and ethnic groups.
“This information, when interpreted alongside other reported data, helps to guide our interventions and efforts to create equitable access to education for all students,” he said.
Cavallaro said data reveal that the city is on track to become more racially and ethnically diverse, but also more linguistically diverse.
“In the 2016-17 school year we recorded that 13 percent of our population qualified as [English learners], as compared to our most recent district analysis that indicates nearly 16 percent of our student body qualify as EL,” he said. “While this percentage of students are comprised of an impressive number of ethnicities, it still remains that Spanish speaking families are the largest representation in that group.”
Cavallaro said there has been a targeted effort to increase the number of bilingual educators and bilingual supports in the district, and it was also a top priority for the district during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to sustain in-person learning for bilingual learners.
Beyond high school, the DataHaven report also reflects that West Haven has less educational attainment than the rest of the state on average. About 24 percent of West Haven residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 39 percent of Connecticut residents. The percentage of West Haven residents without a high school diploma is 12 percent, compared to 9 percent of Connecticut residents overall.
West Haven also has disparities in health outcomes: for every 1,000 live births, there is an infant mortality rate of 12.4 for Black West Haven residents compared to 7.4 for white West Haven residents. The average West Haven mortality rate of 6.9 per 1,000 live births is higher than that of the statewide average of 4.6 per 1,000 live births, the report notes.
“Health and economic disparities coexist, as poor health is often tied to low socioeconomic status and vice versa,” said Karl Minges, interim dean of the University of New Haven’s School of Health Sciences.
Minges said factors associated with this “observation include lack of education, lack of access to high-quality health care, and societal factors, such as systemic racism and environmental hazards, just to name a few.”
“Everyone’s risk profile is unique, and the result of numerous factors,” he said.
“However, by investing in community health, such as offering access to affordable and nutritious fruits and vegetables, reasonably priced insurance, education related to health behaviors, and the ability to earn a decent wage, among other socioeconomic factors, the prevalence of many of these issues can be reduced,” Minges said.
More than half of city residents — 54 percent — live in homes built before 1960, which presents a risk for lead poisoning because of the widespread use of lead-based paints before then; the report says that between 2013 and 2017 that 3 percent of West Haven children were reported to have elevated lead levels. The percentage of Connecticut residents living in homes built before 1960 is 42 percent.
The DataHaven report also has data on how West Haven residents feel about their city. According to the DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey taken from 2015 to 2018, 77 percent of West Haven residents said they trust their neighbors — compared to 85 percent of Connecticut residents saying the same. Mark Abraham, executive director of DataHaven, said the wellbeing survey was a live, in-depth interview of 32,000 residents conducted in English and Spanish by polling random landline and cell phone numbers. Included in the polling data were 476 West Haven residents, he said.
[Mayor] Rossi said she intends to incorporate data on citywide inequities into the city’s planning process around how to spend federal and state pandemic recovery funds.
Sanders, the assistant professor, said he wonders how much community feedback will be incorporated into that planning process. “Who is stewarding that process for the city? Is it just elected officials? Is it a committee of concerned citizens plus elected officials?” he said. “I think the committee should be asking questions about the poverty rate and the level of suspensions in school that definitely don’t show equity for people of color.”