Conflict & Justice

The women of Connecticut: A study in inequality


In Fairfield County, Conn., the income gender gap has widened, along with general income inequality.


Spencer Platt

As GlobalPost releases its newest Special Report today, "The Great Divide," it's clear that the country has a very deep problem with income inequality. One of the lead stories of the new investigative series is about Fairfield County, Conn., one of the most unequal areas in the country. 

But there isn't just an overall income gap — there's a significant gender gap as well.

Of the poor side of the divide in Connecticut, the most significantly disadvantaged group tends to be women, who make tens of thousands less than their male counterparts living in the same communities.

In the past two years, the income gender gap among full-time workers in Fairfield County widened by 17.7 percent, according to the Census Bureau, and the average woman earns nearly $20,000 less than the average man, reported in September.

Meanwhile, the wage gap remained mostly stable on a national level.

Data shows there are 37,399 families headed by a single mother in Fairfield, and 20,000 of those include children under 18. To make ends meet with two kids in the neighborhood, a single parent needs an income of at least $60,000, but women who work full time in Fairfield County earn a median income of $47,000, according to the Fairfield County Community Foundation's Fund for Women and Girls, a charity that delivers grants to non-profits in the region.

Businessweek also looked at the income inequality of Fairfield County last July, and profiled a woman named Jodey Lazarus, who has two children and lives in the poverty-stricken suburb of Stamford.

More from GlobalPost: Two sides of Connecticut's economic divide reveal price of inequality

“I want to be able to pay my bills with no help, I want to be able to buy my own house,” Lazaurs said. “My mom says just be thankful I have a job and stop complaining. But at the end of the day, I’m barely making enough money, you know? The money comes in and it goes out.”

Her kids, ages 8 and 9, make do. Their mom has a full-time job, goes to college, and uses every kind of financial assistance program available to her, but it's still not enough in Fairfield, where the rents are higher and the schools are better.

It would be easy to blame the gender gap on the fact that Fairfield County is heavily populated with financial industry workers — a male-dominated industry with high salaries, made up of wealthy Wall Streeters who commute from Greenwich to Manhattan.

But it's not that simple. In fact, other sectors also see the wage gap trend in Fairfield.

"Women were paid less than men even in fields in which they hold more of the positions, such as education and health care," reported CTPost. "Fairfield County women working in education, for example, earn about $715 less than their male counterparts each month. The county-wide monthly earnings gap between male and female workers in health care and social assistance is about $3,300."

According to the state-run Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the concern really lies in the nonexistent upward mobility.

More from GlobalPost: Prescriptions for improving American income inequality

"There is a segment of the population in Fairfield County — particularly single mothers — that is unable to put together the combination of building blocks needed for longterm economic security," noted PCSW in a 2007 report by the Fund for Women and Girls. "This cycle forces women to spend time meeting basic needs such as food, health care, housing and child care, leaving little time to work toward economic security, such as saving, investing in training or education, or buying a home."

The controversial "Great Gatsby Curve," invented by economist Mike Corak, shows the sad truth: that in areas with more inequality, there is less mobility. And it doesn't seem like there's a lifeline coming any time soon for the women of Connecticut.

“The United States is among the most unequal of the rich countries and it is also among the least mobile. The strong tie between family background and the chance of success runs counter to what we commonly understand as the American Dream,” Corak said to Businessweek.

“The most important thing that the US is leaving behind as it moves up the curve is the vision of itself,” said Corak.

For more of GlobalPost's reporting on income inequality, check out our Special Report "The Great Divide: Global Income Inequality and its Cost."