Northwest CT Community Foundation Releases Demographics Report
Community Crossroads is an extensive research project focused on the demographic composition of our communities – now and in the future – and core community wellbeing indicators, such as housing, employment, education, healthcare and crime. Our goal with this report is to educate community stakeholders and inspire community discourse so that we may, together, build collaborative strategies to protect and enhance the welfare of our region.
LOCAL DEMOGRAPHIC INDICATORS
NWCT Population Projections and Trends
CORE COMMUNITY INDICATORS
The Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation serves the following 20 towns in Northwest Connecticut: Barkhamsted, Bethlehem, Canaan/Falls Village, Colebrook, Cornwall, Goshen, Hartland, Harwinton, Kent, Litchfield, Morris, New Hartford, Norfolk, North Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon, Torrington, Warren, Washington, and Winchester/Winsted.
In this report, the Community Foundation’s 20 towns will be referred to individually, and collectively as NWCT. Other data may be reported for Litchfield County (LC) or Connecticut as a whole, if town data are not available.
The following data sources were accessed for calculating the 27 indicators:
American Community Survey, 5 Year Estimates
Connecticut State Data Center (CSDC) at the University of Connecticut, Population Projections 2015–2040
Connecticut State Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Connecticut State Department of Public Health (DPH), Annual Registration Report, Vital Records
Connecticut State Department of Education, EdSight, School Performance Profiles
Connecticut State Department of Labor, Office of Research Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care
Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) IPUMS-USA (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series) MIT Living Wage Project
Uniform Crime Reports
U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Statistics of Income
U.S. Census Longitudinal Employer Household Dynamics (LEHD)
U.S. Census Longitudinal Origin Destination Statistics (LODES)
U.S. Census OnTheMap Applications United Way ALICE Project
Demography is the study of populations. But it is much more than that. It is the crucial element of long-range planning. It establishes a foundation upon which the past is constructed and the future discerned. For leaders as decision makers, demographics can function as a window into the future. Impending trends can be anticipated and their potential impact determined.
The trends that NWCT is experiencing today largely have their origins in the region’s demography. Appellations assigned to demographic segments such as War Babies, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, or Millennials have meaning in defining the size and characteristics of those population groups. It is no coincidence that the aging of NWCT’s workforce is so substantial, or that its school-age population has decreased over the past few years. The cause and effect is inherent within the size of the population groups themselves.
Migration focuses on the movement of people from one place to another. It is an important component of demography because it has an impact on the natural population changes that are expected to occur. In-, out-, and net migration can magnify or diminish the natural effects of the demographic structure (births, deaths), producing variance in population projections. Yet a region has the ability to positively influence the flow of immigration and stem the flow of emigration.
Critical Trends 2015 to 2040
Careful analysis of current and historical data indicates 10 readily apparent trends NWCT is currently experiencing.
- An explosion in the number of seniors
By 2040, the number of individuals over 65 years of age will increase by 62% and may result in serious challenges to NWCT’s labor pool, social services, provisions for transportation in the Northwest Corner, and access to healthcare services.
- An ongoing decrease in numbers of preschool and school-aged youth
The number of young children (birth to age 4) is expected to increase slightly in the short term but then begin a steady decline. The ongoing decrease in school-age populations (ages 5 to 19) is expected to continue in the long term. This could mean a decrease in public school enrollments in the foreseeable future, thus adding to the current worries about shrinking classroom sizes, a potential oversupply of teaching and administrative staff, and diminishing taxpayer support for public education.
- A sharp drop in numbers of young adults
Over the next two decades, the number of young adults (ages 20 to 24) is expected to decline by one-third. This significant and continuous decrease may have a long-term impact upon the potential supply of labor and, ultimately, the number of births in NWCT—especially if this group leaves for postsecondary education/training and chooses not to return to NWCT.
- Short-term growth of the millennial population, followed by notable decline
Increases in older millennials (ages 25 to 39) will occur in the short term. Unfortunately, from 2025 onward, the losses in this age segment are anticipated to be substantial. This might have a negative impact on home sales, labor supply, local business patronage, and municipalities’ tax base.
- A reduction in the number of available and experienced workers
Decreases in the middle-age population groups (ages 40 to 54 and 55 to 64) may pose challenges for business leaders in their need to replace the many skilled and experienced workers who will retire. Because the available workforce may be smaller, replacements could be expensive and difficult to recruit, train, and retain.
- Diminishing birth rates
There has been an ongoing decline in NWCT birth rates since 2005. This decline has already had a major impact on current demographic trends in the region and may continue to do so with significant consequences.
- Losses in the number of individuals leaving Litchfield County for other states
More individuals are leaving Litchfield County to live in other states, as compared to those who are moving to the county from other states. Given the lack of population growth in the county, net out-migration (unless it lessens) may add to population shrinkage.
- Gains in the number of individuals moving into Litchfield County from other Connecticut counties
While it does not equal the deficit of out-migration to other states, the flow of individuals moving into Litchfield County from other Connecticut counties has been considerable and reflects the attractiveness of the region within Connecticut. This is a factor that could be exploited in the face of NWCT’s demographic changes.
- Growth of racial and ethnic diversity
While NWCT’s overall population has declined, its Hispanic and Asian populations have grown considerably. This growth is primarily found in Torrington and Winchester.
- More education and training required to obtain employment that ensures long- term economic security
Labor market analysts generally consider that a high school education alone will be insufficient for most households to maintain economic security over the long term. Considering occupational projections for NWCT, this seems valid.
2025 Population Projections for NWCT and 20 Towns by Age Segment
2015 to 2025
NWCT’s population is expected to decrease by 2% from 2015 to 2025.
This relative stability belies the dynamic changes that are occurring. (See Table 1.)
The youngest population (birth to age 4) will experience an increase of 5%, or 233 children.
Youth and adolescents (ages 5 to 19), the majority of whom attend elementary, middle, and secondary schools, are estimated to decrease by 9%, or 1,692 children.
Young adults (ages 20 to 24) will experience a substantial decline of 19%, or approximately 934 persons. Many of these individuals will be engaged in postsecondary education or training. This decrease (coupled with the notable decrease in the 5-to- 19 age segment) does not bode well for the future of the area’s workforce. Fortunately, adults 25 to 39 years of age will increase by 8%, which suggests that some of the millennial population will choose the Northwest Corner for home ownership and for starting families.
Trends also indicate a potential shortfall in the size and quality of the workforce. This will be caused by a considerable decline in adults 40 to 54 years of age, estimated to shrink by 17%, or approximately 4,087. Individuals 55 to 64 years of age will also decline slightly (by 5%). These two groups are considered to be in their prime working years: on-track with their occupations and realizing their earning potential. They represent a mature, experienced element of the workforce. The reduction in these two groups, coupled with the massive retirements of workers 65 and older, may create a substantial shortage of workers to fill existing—let alone newly created—job openings.
The greatest demographic change will occur within the older segments of the population. The number of adults 65 to 79 years of age is projected to grow by 26% from 2015 to 2025, an increase of more than 3,871 individuals. The oldest segment, 80 years and over, is also expected to grow by 11%, adding more than 637 elderly persons to the 2015 population.
The aging of the population will likely have an impact on far more than the region’s workforce, as it gives rise to concerns about the capacity of the existing health-care infrastructure, availability of home- and community-based services, declining tax bases, and out-migration to other states.
A recent survey by the Association of General Contractors of America found that 73% of the responding firms had a difficult time finding qualified workers. In March 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that “when middle-aged workers retire, there won’t be many young bodies to replace them.” It noted that the average age of construction equipment operators and highway maintenance workers was 46. A Rand Corporation study further suggested that “rapid retirements deprive companies of critical experience and knowledge which undermines productivity.”
2040 Population Projections for NWCT and 20 Towns by Age Segment
Looking Further into the Future
2025 to 2040
NWCT is expected to experience a widespread population loss from 2025 to 2040 of 7%, or nearly 7,000 persons. (See Table 2.)
The youngest population segment (birth to age 4) will experience a major decline of 17%, or 815 children.
Youth and adolescents (ages 5 to 19), the majority of whom attend elementary, middle, and secondary schools, are estimated to decrease by 4%, or 617 persons.
Young adults (ages 20 to 24) will again decline by a sizeable 19%, or 772 persons. Adults 25 to 39 years of age will experience a decrease of 16%, or 2,801 persons. After the modest 8% increase from 2015 to 2025, this considerable downslide projection will renew long-term concerns in NWCT’s localities about the viability of their home sale markets and tax bases. For employers, recruitment of young workers may continue to be problematic.
The quantity and quality of the existing labor force will continue to be a source of concern for NWCT’s employers, albeit to a lesser degree than in the period 2015 to 2025. The number of adults 40 to 54 years of age will actually grow by 8%, or 1,683 persons. Unfortunately, individuals ages 55 to 64 will again decline, and to a larger degree—by 22%, for a loss of 3,756 persons. Compared to the prior 10 years, the overall decreases in these two age segments will be considerably less from
2025 to 2040.
Although the size of the elderly population (persons 80 and over) will dramatically expand, seniors (65 to 79) will decrease from 2025 to 2040 by 11%, or 2,073 individuals. An increase of 35%, or 2,182, over the 2025 population of elderly (80-and-over) persons is projected. The needs of the elderly can differ considerably from seniors, raising issues related to long-term care, transportation in the Northwest Corner, access to healthcare, and food security, among others.
2015 to 2040: Projected Population Trends for NWCT by Age Segment
Projected Population Trends for 20 NWCT Towns: 2015 to 2040
Birth Rates for NWCT
Findings from the latest U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey indicate that Connecticut women are having fewer children. At the same time, Connecticut’s population continues to age. The state is ranked 49th in fertility among the 50 states and is cited as one of the slowest-growing states in the country. (Connecticut Mirror, September 23, 2016)
It appears that Connecticut is running counter to the national trend regarding the increased birth rate among women in their 30s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national birthrate for women ages 30 to 39 is the highest that it has been since the 1960s, when families were larger and births were near all-time highs. Connecticut, however, is one of only three states where this is not occurring. (National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 66, No. 1)
NWCT’s low birth rate does not bode well for the size of the region’s population and future school enrollments. There is strong evidence that NWCT’s women of child-bearing age are replicating national trends by having fewer children and delaying motherhood until later in life.
NWCT’s birth rate has been consistently and notably lower than that of Connecticut as a whole. The annual number of births in NWCT has declined from 2005 to 2014, with 213 fewer births in 2014.
Average Migration Flow for Litchfield County
Given NWCT’s population loss both past and pro- jected, local communities should consider ways in which they can stem the number of persons who choose to migrate from the region and increase the number who decide to relocate to it.
The positive gain from in-state migration to Litchfield County is reassuring. The region appears to be an attractive option for Connecticut residents who wish to move within the state. NWCT’s quality of life may be a factor in the decision to move to the area, particularly if commuting to work is required. Quality of life can also be a marketing hook for attracting potential businesses to either relocate or expand within the borders of North- west Connecticut. A happy workforce is certainly a goal for most businesses.
Since 2011–2012, Litchfield County has been losing at least 300 people annually to migration. The deficit has been climbing each year and reached its highest level in 2014–2015, with over 538 individuals.
Out-of-state movement is the basis for Litchfield County’s net deficit migration. An average net loss exceeding 800 persons has occurred since 2011–2012. The three most popular destination states over the past four years are New York, Massachusetts, and Florida. California and North Carolina have also attracted notable numbers of emigrants, depending on the year.
Litchfield County has had net gains in the number of persons moving into the county from other Connecticut counties. However, there is great variance. In 2013–2014, a gain of 703 occurred, but that fell to 189 in 2014–2015. Those moving to Litchfield County came from New Haven and Fairfield Counties, while those leaving Litchfield County departed to Hartford County.
The influx of persons coming to Litchfield County from countries outside the U.S. was noteworthy. From negligible numbers in previous years, there were 103 individuals from foreign countries who established residency in Litchfield County in 2014–2015.
In-Migration by Age Segment for Litchfield County
In-migration among young adults (ages 20–39) appears to be a positive sign that Litchfield County is attracting those who wish to buy a first home, raise a family, or enjoy a satisfying quality of life.
The largest in-migration to Litchfield County in 2015 occurred within the population segments ages 20–24 and 25–39. Relocation to Litchfield County from one of Connecticut’s other seven counties was notable in these two age segments. Approximately 1,951, or 12%, migrated in. Also of note was the in-migration of 439 individuals ages 25–39 who relocated to Litchfield County from a non-contiguous state.
Nine of ten Litchfield County residents did not move in 2015. This was particularly the case for those 40 years of age and older. Five percent moved out of their homes in 2015 but relocated to another home in Litchfield County.
Three of four young adults ages 20–24 did not move in 2015. Fifteen percent moved into another home but stayed in Litchfield County.
Four of five young adults between the ages of 25 and 39 also did not move in 2015. Eleven percent moved into another home in Litchfield County.
Student Enrollment Trends for NWCT School Districts
Connecticut’s low birth rate has had a tremendous impact on decreasing school enrollments throughout the state. The National Center for Education has forecast a steady drop in state school enrollments until 2025 (Connecticut Mirror, September 23, 2016).
Unfortunately for most NWCT towns, their school-age populations are projected to continue to decline. Consequently, little relief will be available to ameliorate shrinking classroom sizes throughout the region.
Virtually every district in NWCT has experienced a considerable decline in its student enrollments from school years 2010–2011 to 2015–2016, resulting in over 2,100 (-12%) fewer students than just six years earlier.
Three districts have lost over 300 students during this six-year time span, including Region 10 (-357, or -13%), Torrington (-354, or -8%) and Region 14 (-336, or -16%).
Other districts confronted with large declines include Litchfield (-205, or -17%), New Hartford (-140, or -23%), Winchester (-120, or -17%) and Barkhamsted (-87, or -23%).
Racial/Ethnic Composition of NWCT
While White residents of NWCT continue to com- prise nine of every ten persons in the region, their proportion of the population fell slightly from 2010 to 2015. During that period, the number of White residents declined by approximately 3,900, dropping in percentage from 92% to 90%. At the same time, the number of racial/ethnic minorities grew substantially, particularly in Torrington and Winchester.
NWCT’s Black population continued to constitute a very small percentage of the region’s population (1%). However, its overall number grew by 61% while adding over 500 Black residents to the region from 2010 to 2015. Torrington and Winchester accounted for much of that growth.
The Hispanic/Latino population of NWCT experienced rapid and considerable growth during the five-year period from 2010 to 2015. During that time, Hispanics/Latinos increased by 639 persons, more than 13%.
Over three-quarters of the Hispanic/Latino population reside in either Torrington or Winchester. The Hispanic/Latino population in Winchester experienced extraordinary growth of nearly 50% (338) from 2010 to 2015. In Torrington, which represents nearly 60% of the region’s Hispanic/Latino population, the increase was 13% (360).
Based on research conducted by the Migration Policy Institute, an estimate places the population of undocumented immigrants in CT at 105,000. Using estimates for age and gender and the 2015 population of NWCT, it is possible that the number of undocumented women of childbearing age (16–44) is 875. This means that both current counts (as well as future projections) of the Hispanic/Latino population are under-representations.
The Asian population in NWCT increased by 11% (186) from 2010 to 2015. Nearly all of that increase occurred in Torrington and Winchester, with the latter town’s Asian population increasing by 149, a gain of over 100%.
Occupations Projected to be In-Demand for NWCT
Analysis of both the wages and education/training required for the most growth-oriented occupations forecast for the NWCT (as well as for Connecticut as a whole) clearly support the view that a high school education alone will be insufficient for most households to maintain economic security over the long term. Of great concern is a recent study, “Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century” (Brookings Institute, 2017). Princeton economists Case and Deaton uncovered a disproportionate number of “deaths of despair” among less educated, middle-age White Americans. They concluded that the increase in suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related diseases among this group was being fueled by the loss of steady, middle-income jobs for those with a high school education or less.
Educators at the primary, middle, and secondary levels need to ensure that their students are given the guidance and education they need to pursue either postsecondary education (either college- or university-based) or technical training. For students to do otherwise is to resign themselves to a lifetime of financial insecurity, emotional stress, and possible health issues.
Thirteen of the twenty occupations forecast as “high-demand” for NWCT and which provide economic security require a Bachelor’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. These occupations fall into the following categories: management, computer systems analysis and programming, teaching, mechanical engineering, nursing, and social work. Their average annual wages are highest among the in-demand occupations forecast for the region.
The other seven occupations generally require a technical high school education, followed by a postsecondary apprenticeship or long-term, on-the-job training. While the wages paid for these occupations are considerably less than those associated with jobs requiring higher education, compensation is such that it will provide the foundation for long-term economic security.
These occupations include plumbers, electricians, carpenters, machinists, counselors, maintenance/repair workers, and automotive technicians.
In contrast, twenty-five occupations forecast as “high demand” for NWCT over the next five years offer compensation that does not provide economic security. Overall, these occupations require little or no education beyond a high school diploma, and a short on-the-job training experience.
Core Community Indicators
An essential baseline for community welfare
As the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” The core community indicators the Foundation selected in this section are intended to be more than just a collection of statistics. They perform three primary functions:
- To measure existing conditions involving economic development, income and wages, educational performance, housing affordability, access to healthcare, and public safety;
- To gain insights into their impact on the region; and
- To assess the progress of initiatives intended to address them.
Criteria were established to ensure that the right indicators were selected for their intended purpose. These criteria were applied to the many indicators that could have been included in this core set.
Availability. Data for the indicator are readily available and accessible from a reliable source.
Reliability. Data for the indicator are consistently collected, compiled, and calculated in the same way, from year to year.
Validity. The indicator measures what it is designed to measure.
Measurability. The indicator can be quantified.
Relevance/action-oriented. The indicator measures a factor or condition over which community decision-makers can achieve positive change.
Sensitivity. The indicator is able to capture changes in conditions over time.
Compelling/interesting. The indicator lends itself to understanding and has the capability to inform the public, media, and decision-makers.
Unfortunately these selection criteria precluded the inclusion of some indicators in the core set that have value. For example, some indicators did not easily lend themselves to quantification and comparison, or are not consistently collected on a regular basis. Others cannot be monitored annually. Such indicators should be thought of as complementary indicators that lend themselves to periodic in-depth analysis. The following are examples of complementary indicators:
Natural Environment (including air and water quality)
Recreational Opportunities (including youth programs, parks, and open space)
Arts and Culture (including theaters, museums, galleries, dance companies, youth arts programs, and others)
Business Capacity (including the number of business start-ups, business loans made, and the number of businesses by size)
Early Care and Education Capacity (including child care availability, costs and enrollments)
School Readiness (including publicly funded spaces for high-quality school readiness programs)
Households Living Below a ”Basic Needs Budget” in NWCT
Potentially one-third of NWCT’s households are not earning incomes needed to meet even a basic needs budget. To exacerbate this situation, there is a chronic oversupply of low-paying jobs in North- west CT. These factors impact the ability of many residents in the 20 towns to achieve even a modicum of economic security and pose a region-wide concern.
As of 2015, there were over 14,000 NWCT households that had earnings under the calculated income needed to meet a Basic Needs Budget.
Seven of NWCT’s twenty towns had about one- third or more of their population living below the income threshold. These towns include Torrington (41%), Winchester (39%), Kent (37%), North Canaan (35%), Norfolk (33%), Canaan/Falls Village (31%) and Cornwall (31%).
Taken together, Torrington (6,088) and Winchester (1,908) account for over one-half of NWCT’ households with annual incomes below $45,000.
Several towns with somewhat lower percentages still had relatively sizeable numbers of lower-income households, including Litchfield (905), New Hartford (691), and Washington (415). On a positive note, the overall percentage of households unable to support a Basic Needs Budget dropped by 8%, from 41% in 2010 to 33% in 2015. A few towns had double-digit drops in percentages of households living below a Basic Needs Budget threshold. These included Torrington (-11%), Canaan/Falls Village (-14%), North Canaan (-20%), Salisbury (-14%), Morris (-11%), and Sharon (-10%). This is perhaps an indication that the increase in the number of higher-paying jobs in NWCT from 2010 to 2014 has had a positive impact on the economic security of some households. (Please refer to Primary Jobs, Age Segments, and Monthly Income in NWCT.)
Primary Jobs, Age Segments, and Monthly Income in NWCT
NWCT appears to have achieved economic recovery from the Great Recession (2007–2009), as well as an increase in the number of better-paying jobs. However, there remains a continued predominance of lower-paying primary jobs in the region. (This is having a sustained and dramatic effect on the number of households that are unable to achieve economic security.) The progress NWCT has made in raising the number of gainful primary jobs must be continued if it is to attract and retain a younger workforce.
From 2010 to 2014, NWCT added 1,895 primary jobs to its economy, bringing the total to 33,553. By doing so, the NWCT economy approximated the number of primary jobs it had in 2004. On paper, this finding suggests that no economic gain was made in the region over a ten-year period. Conversely, NWCT appears to have made a perceptible economic recovery from the job losses associated with the Great Recession.
From 2004 to 2014, the number of NWCT workers ages 55 and older increased by 45%. This expan- sion resulted in just over 3,000 individuals transitioning into the older worker category. Supported by 2015–2025 population projections, the increase forecasts the shifting nature of NWCT’s workforce into one that is starting to disproportionately advance toward retirement. Connecticut is also undergoing a similar transition, but to a lesser extent.
Trending over a ten-year period (2004–2014), NWCT has made substantial gains toward increasing the number of higher-paying jobs. NWCT expanded by nearly 3,500 the number of primary jobs that paid over $3,333 a month, a significant increase (31%).
However, when the year 2014 is used as a base-line, the proportion of lower-paying primary jobs in NWCT continues to be especially troublesome. Over one-half (56%) of NWCT’s primary jobs still pay less than $3,333 per month, while Connecticut is at 45%. Stated another way, 55% of Connecticut’s jobs pay over $3,333 a month, while 44% of NWCT’s primary jobs meet that salary threshold.
Inflow-Outflow Analysis of Primary Jobs for NWCT Towns
There is a considerable degree of cross-commuting that occurs in NWCT. Only a small number of NWCT workers find their primary employment in the town in which they reside.
On the positive side, many NWCT towns offer opportunities for primary jobs that are sufficiently appealing to attract workers from outside their boundaries. That said, the data suggest that the total number of primary jobs within most communities is insufficient to meet the needs of the community’s labor force. Therefore, a larger percentage of workers feel it is necessary to seek and commute to jobs outside of the NWCT town in which they reside.
Three of four workers (24,400) commute to a primary job in a NWCT town but reside outside of that town. An example might be someone who commutes to Torrington but lives in Litchfield or Waterbury (INFLOW).
Four of five workers (40,325, or 82%) reside in a NWCT town but commute to primary employment elsewhere. This might be someone who lives in Torrington but commutes to Avon or Winsted (OUTFLOW).
As documented in Table 17, there are 33,553 primary jobs in NWCT. When that total is compared with the findings in Table 18, the result is a net outflow of nearly 16,000 more workers who commute from NWCT towns to a primary job in another town (contrasted with those who commute into NWCT towns for their employment).
Annual Average Employment and Wage in NWCT
While significant gains have been made since 2010, average annual wages in NAICS industries lag behind those in governmental jobs. If NWCT expects to influence worker migration patterns in its favor, the region’s economy must add jobs— specifically, jobs that provide economic security to workers. One way to enable this is for NWCT com- munities to provide incentives for NAICS industries to locate or expand operations to the region. A concerted regional effort toward this goal can pay the high dividend of making NWCT an attractive option for younger households looking for a place to settle down and raise a family.
In the period 2010–2015, annual average employment for NAICS industries climbed by over 3%, adding over 1,100 jobs to NWCT’s economy. Given the overall state of the American economy during this time span, even this modest gain in the number of jobs in NWCT is meaningful.
North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS), referred to below, is the standard used by federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publish- ing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.
Most positively, over that same period, annual average wages increased by approximately 13%, or $4,801. This wage growth was critically important, since it brought the NAICS annual average wage ($42,284) closer to the $45,000 threshold for the basic needs budget used in this study.
The number of government jobs in NWCT remained virtually unchanged between 2010 and 2015. Those jobs’ average annual wages grew by 9%, for an increase of $3,740.
Compared to employment in NAICS industries, government employees earn substantially higher wages. Government jobs pay on average nearly 13% more than NAICS industry ones, a difference of over $5,000 annually, placing the average annual wage for a government job ($47,670) above the income threshold for meeting a basic needs budget.
Connecticut Town Economic Index (CTEI) for NWCT
NWCT has achieved economic growth from 2012 to 2016. It has increased the number of better-paying jobs, which has resulted in a healthier regional economy. However, this does not overshadow the number of households that are unable to sustain a basic needs budget based on current income, which suggests that NWCT still faces economic challenges.
Over the five-year period 2012–2016, NWCT as a whole has mirrored Connecticut’s economic performance, growing marginally from 2012 to 2014, and more noticeably in 2015 and 2016.
Since 2012, NWCT’s CTEI grew by over 20%, reflecting a slow but steady recovery from the recession.
In 2016, ten of NWCT’s 20 towns showed greater economic growth than Connecticut did, as their CTEI was above 122. Others improved, as shown in Table 20, but did not keep pace with the state’s CTEI.
Housing Affordability in NWCT
The data suggest that the availability of affordable rental housing is a problem for lower-income households in NWCT. Approximately three- quarters of the region’s households earning less than $50,000 pay more than 30% of that income for housing costs.
In eight NWCT communities, between 80% and 100% of the lower-income households pay a disproportionate share of their income on rental housing. These towns are Colebrook (100%), Goshen (100%), Sharon (100%), Warren (100%), Washington (100%), North Canaan (96%), Kent (89%), and Winchester (81%).
The actual number of households in those eight towns is relatively small, except for Winchester, which has 954 renter households that pay 30% or more of their income for housing.
More than two-thirds of renters in Torrington (68%), or approximately 2,120 households, pay 30% or more of their income for housing. This number comprises almost half of all the house- holds in NWCT who face this housing challenge.
It is clear that for the great majority of households with incomes below $50,000, homeownership is an unattainable goal. Only 20% of these lower-in- come households own a home (with a mortgage).
For those households that do own their home and have a mortgage, ownership is likely creating financial stress. Nine of ten households pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs.
On-Time Graduation Rates for NWCT’s Public High Schools
Research has documented that students who drop out of high school, even briefly, are at higher risk of never gradu- ating and not pursuing higher education than their peers who graduate on time. They are more likely to be unem- ployed and out of school in early adulthood compared to on-time graduates. It is estimated that over their lifetimes they will earn 27% less per year than the average high school graduate.
(Source: Keith Melville, Ph.D., The School Drop Out Crisis, Why One-Third of all High School Students Don’t Graduate & What Your Community Can Do About It (Nathan Jones, et al., eds., Suzanne Morse, Ph.D. 2006).
The ability of individuals and families to purchase a home in a school district that offers a quality public school system is considered to be a major component of an area’s quality of life. The importance of performance benchmarks upon which they can review the efficacy of the public schools their children may attend is critical in their decision as to where to locate. As a result, the excellence of NWCT’s public school systems can be an important asset for a family in deciding whether or not to purchase a home in the 20-town area. Many companies and organizations also include the quality of a region’s educational system as an important factor in their relocation and expansion decisions.
9th Grade and On-Track to Graduate in NWCT’s Public High Schools
Most of NWCT’s high schools have ninth-graders on-track to high school graduation. Percentages exceed the state average of 86%. Because the number of students who are not on-track is small, educators should be able to identify these “outliers” and to remediate their areas of weakness.
The two high schools at or below the state average are Torrington High and The Gilbert School, both of which have different demographic profiles compared to the other 18 towns.
School Performance Index (SPI) for NWCT’s Public High Schools
It is critically important that all NWCT high schools make a concerted effort to lift their high need students closer to the SPI target (75) so that they can be competitive in today’s skills-driven job market. Academic performance that is more than just “satisfactory” is increasingly essential. For example, careers in STEM-related industries are projected to be among the highest demand/growth sectors in Connecticut’s economy. STEM careers generally provide meaningful and financially rewarding employment over the long term. Most, however, require some form of postsecondary education. (STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)
The 2015–2016 performance of Non-High Need high school students on ELA, math, and science provides a mixed picture of NWCT’s high schools as measured against CSDE’s SPI benchmark goal of 75. For several high schools, reaching the SPI target in the near future seems achievable. These schools include Litchfield, Wamogo, Housatonic, Northwestern, Lewis S. Mills, and Nonnewaug.
In contrast, the Non-High Need high school students at Torrington High, The Gilbert School, and Oliver Wolcott Technical appear to be quite a distance from realizing the CSDE target.
Furthermore, the performance of the region’s High Need high school students in every district falls noticeably below that of Non-High Need students in all three areas. In most cases the SPI for High Need high school students hovers near 50 or under.
College Entrance and Persistence for NWCT’s Public High Schools
For those high school students without any postsecondary education, the odds of enjoying the rewards of economic security are ever more stacked against them with each passing year. The college entrance and persistence data clearly articulate the need for a greater number of students with financial need to be counseled about the importance of postsecondary education to their long-term well-being. They must also be academically prepared to meet the commitment. Failure to do so will consign these students to membership in a permanent economic underclass in NWCT, unable to fill better-paying jobs, even when these jobs are available to them.
The percentage of students entering postsecondary education after high school graduation dropped in four high schools from 2009–2010 to 2014–2015. These schools are The Gilbert School (-30%), Housatonic (-7%), Litchfield (-6%), and Lewis S. Mills (-5%). Gilbert students with financial need (Eligible for Free or Reduced Price Meals—EFRM) had a 42% drop in college entrance rates from the school years 2009–2010 (82%) to 2014–2015 (40%).
At Northwestern (84%), Lewis S. Mills (78%), and Nonnewaug (78%), four of five seniors successfully entered postsecondary education after graduating from high school.
For students with financial need, there was less evidence of college entrance after high school graduation in the 2014–2015 school year. Forty percent of low-income students from Torrington High and The Gilbert School entered postsecondary education, while 52% at Housatonic and 67% at Nonnewaug did so. This finding may demonstrate that low-income students have less awareness about the importance of pursuing postsecondary education, as well as the affordability offered by community and technical colleges. As always, guidance and teaching staff play a critical role in urging these students on, and can help them understand the connection between educational attainment and economic security down the road.
Overall, college persistence rates for all nine high schools were high. Most schools had students whose college persistence approached or exceeded 90%. This indicates the quality of preparation that area high schools provide to their college-bound students. Gilbert (76%) and Torrington (82%) were slightly lower, but still reflected strong persistence rates.
Smarter Balanced Assessments for Grade 3 in NWCT’s Public School Districts
The 2015–2016 Smarter Balanced Assessments Grade 3 results in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math point to proficiency for many students in school districts throughout NWCT. However, the results also indicate that for several towns, high-quality early care and education opportunities may need to be expanded and/or improved.
Four of the seven school districts able to provide both ELA and Math data report that two-thirds or more of their third-graders have attained proficiency in the two areas. These districts are Barkhamsted, Litchfield, Region 10, and Salisbury.
Several other districts were able to report results for only one area (due to data suppression to ensure confidentiality), and they indicated proficiency attainment for a large portion of their students in the reported area. These districts include Kent, Region 6, Region 10, and Region 14.
However, four school districts showed results in which approximately one-half or fewer of their third-graders attained proficiency in ELA and/or Math. These districts are Torrington, Winchester, New Hartford, and North Canaan. From these findings it may be construed that the early care and education offerings in these towns need to be examined for their capacity and/or capability.
Access to Healthcare Providers and Healthcare Services in Litchfield County
The adequacy of NWCT’s healthcare infrastructure for meeting the health-related needs of its residents can be an important asset for a family in deciding whether to purchase a home in the 20-town area. So, too, many companies and organizations include the quality of a region’s healthcare system as an important factor in their relocation and expansion decisions. Overall, Litchfield County (LC) had a mixed performance in its efforts to increase the accessibility of its residents to basic healthcare providers and services.
Percentage of Uninsured* (those under the age of 65)
For 2014, a small percentage (7%) of Litchfield County’s population was without health insurance. Torrington (11%, or 3,725) and Winchester (8%, or 906) had considerably larger uninsured populations.
Primary Care Physicians, Dentists, and Mental Health Providers
Access to primary care physicians, dentists, and mental health providers continues to be among the lowest in the state. With the continuing surge in NWCT’s over-65 population, it can be expected that the need for preventive and ambulatory healthcare services will likely expand in coming years. If residents cannot readily avail themselves of providers they know and trust, confidence in NWCT healthcare may suffer.
While the ratio of mental health providers to area residents has greatly increased since 2011, Litchfield County has the lowest ranking of all eight Connecticut counties. The lack of accessibility to mental health providers and services can be particularly challenging, given the rapid increase of opioid addiction and the mental health problems associated with it.
Preventable Hospital Stays
Number of hospital stays for preventable ambulatory care-sensitive conditions per 1,000 Medicare enrollees
Preventable hospitalizations are those that can be avoided through a timely and effective outpatient diagnosis. These conditions include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bacterial pneumonia, asthma, and congestive heart failure. Number of preventable hospital stays is often used as a proxy indicator for access to primary care services.
The number of preventable hospital stays for selected Medicare recipients has decreased notably since 2010 in Litchfield County. The county continues to have one of the lowest rates among all eight counties.
Non-adequate Prenatal Care
Non-adequate prenatal care comprises intermediate and inadequate prenatal care based on the Adequacy of Prenatal Care Utilization (APNCU) Index.
Like the State of Connecticut, Litchfield County’s percentage of women with non-adequate prenatal care increased considerably between 2010 (11%) and 2014 (17%). The county’s ranking dropped from first to third among all eight counties.
Late or No Prenatal Care
Late prenatal care is defined as prenatal care beginning in the 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy.
The percentage of women with late or no prenatal care increased considerably between 2010 (7%) and 2014 (11%) in Litchfield County. In contrast, other counties had percentages that improved substantially, thus dropping Litchfield from first-best to fourth-best among counties in the state.
Low and Very Low Birthweight
Percentage of live births with low birthweight (<2500 grams) and very low birthweight (<1500 grams)
Litchfield County’s percentage of low and very low birthweight births has notably decreased since 2010. At that time, it had the fifth-best percentage in the state. With a 1.5% decrease over the next five years, its 2014 percentage improved to second-best among the eight counties.
VIOLENT AND PROPERTY CRIME RATES FOR NWCT
With minor exceptions, both the incidence and rate of violent and property crime (and juvenile crime) in NWCT decreased over the five-year period 2010– 2015. This should be viewed as a testament to the region’s efforts to maintain a safe and anxiety-free environment for its residents. This is especially true when Torrington, the largest city in the region, achieves substantially reduced levels of crime. Continued performance of this nature can certainly contribute to positive perceptions of NWCT as an appealing place in which to reside.
The incidence of crime dropped by 357, or 22%, during the period in question. Associated with this finding, the NWCT’s crime rate dropped by 244, meaning that there were 244 fewer crimes committed per 100,000 individuals.
With the exception of Winchester and Morris, all NWCT towns experienced less crime. Torrington had by far the largest decrease with nearly 200 fewer crimes in 2015 than 2010.
Across virtually all towns, the incidence and rate of juvenile crime decreased in NWCT from 2010 to 2015.
There were 249 fewer juvenile crimes committed in NWCT over the period 2010–2015. The juvenile crime rate also plunged, with an estimated 11,449 fewer juvenile crimes committed per 100,000 individuals.
Torrington experienced the largest drop in juvenile crime with 117 fewer cases.
What Can and Should Be Done?
In addressing the demographic trends discussed in this report, there are a few principal strategies that can provide NWCT leaders with a measure of control in shaping the region’s long-term future.
Encourage business investment in the Northwest Corner
The last two Annual Surveys of Northwest Connecticut Businesses conducted by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) reflected a general consensus among the respondents about their top regional priorities for economic growth. Upon examination, it is clear that these priorities interconnect with many of the research findings detailed in this report.
In summary, the top economic priorities identified through the CBIA surveys included:
- Regional collaboration among private-sector, nonprofit, and public-sector organizations to attract business investment;
- Recruitment and retention of a younger workforce in possession of industry-specific skills;
- Greater investment in technical and higher education opportunities to develop job-ready skills;
- Expansion of the region’s manufacturing base through economic incentives that reward job creation;
- A coordinated lobbying effort to reduce state governmental spending and lower personal and business taxes;
- An arts, culture, and entertainment environment that attracts discretionary spending in the region and serves as an important quality of place feature for young adults;
- Improvements to the region’s transportation infrastructure;
- Implementation of regional marketing strategies;
- More opportunities for affordable housing.
By creating business and industry incentives and soliciting increased business investment in NWCT, communities can foster employment opportunities that provide people of all ages with long-term economic growth and security, thereby creating more possibilities for financial well-being beyond the basic needs thresholds—in other words, cultivate “in-demand” jobs that pay over $3,750 per month.
Align academic achievement priorities with the skills required for 21st-century jobs
A public education provided by a technical high school or a postsecondary institution should, at minimum, provide today’s students with the skills essential to acquiring a good-paying job. That 21st-century jobs are requiring greater education and skills training is not a revelation. A study conducted by Georgetown University in 2013 forecast that by 2020, 65% of all jobs would require a college education. (Source: Projection of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, Georgetown University, 2010.)
The Connecticut Department of Labor’s Occupational Projections for both the state and the NWCT region affirm that the most in-demand jobs offering wages commensurate with economic security require a level of skill that only advanced education and training can provide. Over the past decade, increasing emphasis has been placed on the need for students to have “a STEM education,” meaning courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
By increasing the educational achievement of children who come from economically disadvantaged homes, as well as those with language barriers or disabilities (high-need students), Northwest Corner communities can significantly increase the likelihood of on-time graduation, post-secondary school education, and, ultimately, an available workforce capable of commanding higher wages.
Appropriate curriculum and educational options are largely in place in NWCT, and effective school counseling can capitalize on these offerings. In 2015, the National Education Association (NEA) stated that “with new roles, school counselors are more indispensable than ever.” Among those new roles was a greater emphasis on informing students and their parents what was required for them to meet the challenges of the ever-changing job market and “to take responsibility for their own success.”
While school counseling may provide direction and increase student motivation, it must be accompanied by the academic preparation and performance students need to enter and remain in college. Unless it is earned at a technical school, a high school diploma alone is insufficient for pursuing a rewarding career path. With “high-stakes” testing still being used by colleges as an enrollment filter, students need to demonstrate academic performance through good grades and test scores.
Develop and promote quality-of-place attributes that drive community attachment and appeal:
NWCT’s quality of place can be a compelling factor when young adults consider settling down in jobs, getting married, finding an affordable, spacious home, and raising a family.
Equally critical, quality of place considerations can be essential components for seniors and the elderly to experience community connectedness, inclusion, and opportunities to make the most of their golden years.
Quality of place consists of those characteristics of a community or region that make it distinctive from other places and attractive as an area to reside in, work in, and/or visit. The scope of these characteristics is multi-dimensional and generally includes the following elements:
- Public safety: low crime rate
- Public education: quality and cost
- Housing: affordability and availability
- Healthcare facilities: quality and accessibility
- Arts and culture: museums, theater, music, dining
- Recreation: sporting opportunities, fitness facilities/parks
- Child care: quality, cost and availability
- Social capital: interpersonal connections, civic participation, meeting places
- Built environment: sense of history and uniqueness of architecture
- Natural environment: natural beauty
In the December 2016 issue of the Connecticut Economic Digest, Manisha Srivastava wrote that, based on research from 2001 to 2014, Connecticut has historically achieved very positive net in-migration in both the 26–29 and 30–39 age brackets. As Millennials begin to focus on quality-of-place factors and educational opportunities for their children, Srivastava believes that Connecticut will again fare well in encouraging them either to return to the state or to relocate here for the first time. This would bode well for NWCT, since migration data indicate that the region already attracts these age groups from other counties in Connecticut.
For seniors, vibrant community hubs and commercial centers that have access to public transportation and a vast array of personal cultural enrichment opportunities can mean the difference between remaining in a community or emigrating to a more retirement-friendly place. In addition, providing mechanisms for seniors and the elderly to connect with loved ones and receive in-home and community-based services designed to promote cost-effective, independent living can augment important quality-of-life factors that serve to fortify environments where older people are valued, respected, and actively engaged in community life.
More thought has recently been given to the quality of daily life as a factor in building economically vibrant communities. In a new development paradigm, economy is linked to community assets to communicate and promote a common vision of an area’s livability.
In a presentation on the Creative Economy (2011), Ted Abernathy of the Southern Growth Policies Board stated that to develop a strong sense of place, communities need to engage in a strategic branding process. The goal is to create a “long-term vision for a place that is relevant and compelling to key audiences, ultimately influencing and shaping positive perceptions of it … making it authentic and indicating what makes it different from others." Regional cooperation and coordination are necessary ingredients for developing a NWCT brand and crafting the marketing strategies required to make it effective.
Through the development of these strategies, along with other supplemental initiatives, two important objectives can be realized.
- Northwest Corner communities can attract Millennials (ages 18–39) to NWCT in sufficient numbers to expand the nominal growth expected to occur in this age group. More young adults would serve NWCT as parents, consumers, workers, and taxpayers. Economic security and a high quality of place are among the factors that could make this objective a reality.
- Communities will be more likely to retain the young adults who already reside in the region. One element of retaining young persons already residing in NWCT is to ensure that they are given the guidance and academic preparation needed to qualify for job openings that offer good pay and security. While this presupposes an increase in the gainful employment opportunities envisioned by a job creation strategy, its challenge is directed at NWCT’s educational institutions. Jobs with a future, affordability in living, and in-demand work skills would be among the components needed to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Northwest Connecticut is in the midst of tremendous demographic changes that will have an impact for many years. The challenges that have arisen are multi-faceted and complex, and they cross town lines. Any action-oriented response will certainly need to consider economic development, workforce training, educational performance, housing affordability, access to health care and home services, as well as many other factors. In addition, less tangible factors such as quality of place will need to be considered as well.
It is hoped that the issues emanating from the findings in this report and the suggested strategies can serve as a starting point for discussion, with priorities established and action plans to follow. The indicators can serve as the basis for monitoring trends and assessing the impact of actions taken.
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