Striving for 'inclusive prosperity' as economy grows

Some encouraging green sprouts are emerging in our local economy. Electric Boat, with facilities in Groton and New London, will be expanding its workforce over the next several years to meet an aggressive submarine design and construction schedule. That will also mean more work, and jobs, for the supply chain of small businesses that feed into the EB pipeline.

Meanwhile, the port of New London could well play a big part in staging for the construction of offshore wind turbines, creating more jobs.

Commercial developments are being proposed across the region and construction of new housing to meet an expanded job market is anticipated.

But when a group of local nonprofit human services agencies sat down with the editorial board on Friday, they had a word of caution. The state and region need to consider policy approaches that will make this an economic recovery in which all boats are lifted on the rising tide. Otherwise, all it may do is widen the gap between haves and have-nots.

The group, the Southeastern Connecticut Economic Opportunity Task Force, includes the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the Council of United Way Agency Executives, the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, The Arc of New London County, and the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition.

A report it released in late 2014 documented the heavy toll that the recession had taken on the southeastern Connecticut region, with big spikes in those needing food-stamp assistance, children qualifying for free school lunches, and a rising number of families considered “working poor.” At the same time these agencies confronted a growing demand for help, they experienced a 22 percent drop in funding, the late-2014 report found.

In updating the situation, the coalition said things have not improved for most struggling on the margins of our economy and, because of the state’s persistent budget problems, funding for the nonprofit human services agencies remains strained.

About one-quarter of the households in the region are considered working poor, defined as ALICE households — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Members of these households are working part-time jobs, and often multiple jobs, but not at pay levels that can move them into the middle class.

A byproduct of this large population of working poor is high levels of people in debt-collection. They find themselves in that situation because of poor financial decisions, yes, but also because an unexpected medical expense or car repair placed them in debt they cannot repay because of a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

The trauma related to constant money problems takes its tolls on families and children, said Richard D. Calvert, chief executive officer of the Child and Family Agency. When these families have members with special developmental needs, but respite care is in short supply due to funding cuts, stress levels rise, said Kathleen Stauffer, CEO of The Arc.

In talking about steps necessary for an “inclusive recovery” that lifts more of our citizens into the middle class, the coalition stayed out of the political choppy waters that will frame the 2018 state election — including tax policy and a proposed boost in the minimum wage to $15.

But they did offer up ideas that deserve serious consideration. The region needs to increase the levels of affordable housing. Without such planning, rising home prices tied to a recovering economy could make things worse for the working poor.

The coalition also called for a partnership of banks and nonprofit organizations to find ways to reduce debt and create reasonable repayment options for the working poor, in the process reducing a major barrier to economic advancement.

And the state, even in its budget distress, needs to find ways to provide a living wage for human services workers, many who are themselves among the ranks of the working poor. Without wage adjustments, more of these workers will gravitate to better paying jobs in an improving economy, creating a potential staffing crisis.

We join the coalition in support of their efforts to build an “inclusive prosperity.” 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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