The Alliance for a Just Society just released a report comparing living wages acrossseveral states (PDF). Not surprisingly, Connecticut turns out to be a really expensive place to live in: the living wage for a family of four, with one working adult, is $35.18 an hour, only second to New York City in the sample. If both adults are working, the living wage is $24.92 per working adult.
What is a living wage? According to the report:
A living wage is one that allows families to meet their basic needs, without public assistance, and that provides them some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. It is not a poverty wage. Notably, though, it does not account for paying off debt.
New York City is the only region in the study with higher housing costs; no other place in the study comes close to child care cost. Taxes are also an important factor, but they are (mostly) derived from the fact that the required income to pay for increased housing and child care cost is considerably higher.
The General Assembly approved this session a sizable expansion of the early care and education funding, but these numbers show that we have a long way to go. About housing, we do live in an expensive state, that´s for sure.
You can find more coverage about the report at the CT News Junkie.
Of all the bizarre political celebrities of recent years, none was closer to the truth than Jimmy McMillan. In a memorable tirade in an otherwise unremarkable New York gubernatorial debate, McMillan ranted against the high cost of housing. Understandable, as he headed "The rent is too damm high party", even if it felt a bit out of place.
Remarkably, he had a point: housing in NYC is indeed really expensive, to the point of being unaffordable for most low income families. This problem, however, is not limited to New York; Connecticut, in fact, faces a similar challenge. According to a data analysis from the Working Poor Families Project (generated by Population Reference Bureau from the American Community Survey) , Connecticut has, indeed, very expensive rents and housing:
- 47% of renters in the state pay more than 30% of their income to cover rent and utilities - with the state being the 8th most expensive in the country in this regard.
- For poor and low income families, the situation is even worse. 90.3% of poor families pay more than a third of they household income in shelter expenses. 76.4% of low income families face the same challenge. Only New Jersey is even less affordable than Connecticut in this regard.
The economic effects of these numbers go beyond the hardship they inflict on low income families. Matthew Yglesias has pointed out that high housing costs work as an entry barrier for economic development, as they tend to increase the cost of doing business in the state. They are also sign, as well, that the demand for housing in Connecticut is extraordinarily high: a lot of people want to live in the state, and they are willing to pay a premium to enjoy living in quaint New England towns with excellent services, access to high paying jobs and top higher education research centers.
The takeaway, however, when thinking about this issue, is that we have the technology and resources to solve our housing crisis. It will take some effort, by we can have immediate progress in 2-3 years if we start acting now, improving access to housing for needy families, lowering the cost of doing business and attracting young professionals and families that are now being priced out of the state. We can just build more houses where there is demand for them, instead of zoning them out - not just low income housing on the inner cities, but mixed income housing on the suburbs and the nice neighborhoods of our cities as well, like East Rock or Black Rock.
Admittedly, anyone that has dealt with a zoning board knows it is not that easy, but in any case housing policy in Connecticut needs to start taking into account both the hardship it generates and the bottleneck for growth it has become. People want to live in the state; that´s why housing is expensive. We need to have more of it.