Problem known, solutions more elusive
On the campaign trail in September, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced a series of initiatives aimed at encouraging job creation and business growth, along with more state investment in affordable housing.
We agreed with those proposals then. Now, in the wake of a detailed United Way report showing that financial struggles are startlingly and stubbornly pervasive throughout the state, the need for those initiatives has taken on a sense of absolute urgency.
The United Way's study of financial hardship in the state focused specifically on a segment of the population labeled as ALICE - Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. While 10 percent of the state's population is officially designated as living in poverty, more than a third of Connecticut's families struggle to afford the basic necessities of food, housing, child care, health care and transportation.
They live below the ALICE line, not making enough to live with any sense of economic security.
The report makes it clear these families are without savings and so far from a comfortable lifestyle that one financial emergency - a moderately serious illness or a single expensive motor vehicle repair, for example - can send their lives into a downward tailspin.
This said reality helps explain the negative mood of the public during the recent elections. Unemployment has been trending lower, economic green sprouts emerging and gas prices dropping. Normally this would trigger a more positive attitude among the public. But when so many are struggling with the cost of living in this state, when they live lives on the brink of crisis, a few positive economic numbers are not going to shift attitudes or realities.
While most of those who struggle financially live in the state's cities, many also live in suburban and rural towns. In New London County, for example, 57 percent of New London's population is designated as living in poverty or below the ALICE line, but at least a quarter to more than a third of the population of every other town also falls into this category. Only Ledyard, where the United Way report identified 15 percent of its population as living in poverty or ALICE, falls below that threshold.
In light of this, it's high time the governor find a way to make good on those campaign promises he unveiled while standing in the capital city's depressed North End neighborhood. Malloy promised to expand job training, provide more tax credits for business expansion and find money for more business grants and low-interest loans. He also promised more state dollars for affordable housing and to establish a state-funded public works program.
Malloy was quoted as saying at the time: "Until every Connecticut worker that wants a job has one, with good pay and benefits that they can use to support their families, our work will not be done."
In light of the ALICE report, those words just became more relevant. And yet, when it came time last week to announce budget cuts needed to stave off a looming deficit, the administration, at least in part, targeted social service budgets already stretched too thin.
This is complex problem with no easy solutions. Gov. Malloy and the legislature face tough choices in trying to keep the budget balanced without imposing more tax increases, which would act as a further drag on the economy and could end up hurting these households.
The pervasiveness of financially struggling families in the state impacts every resident and is a factor in keeping Connecticut's economy sluggish. The governor reached out to the working poor when he needed their votes. The ALICE report conclusively demonstrates there is no time to waste in finding a way to make good on those promises.