July 26, 2018, 12:15 p.m.: This story has been corrected.
This article is co-published by HuffPost.
New Haven, Conn. — By July 2017, when the state of Connecticut was more than 50 days into the fiscal year without a budget, Angela Serrano had been living at the state-supported Careways Shelter for Women and Children for four months. Serrano was shocked to find herself there when just a few short years ago she had a career, a mortgage and the comforts of middle class life.
The shelter, at that time housing 10 families near New Haven’s historic Wooster Square neighborhood, would be closed by September. The nonprofit group running Careways couldn’t afford to keep it open while financial aid from the state was tied up in budget deliberations — but Serrano, 46, was able to secure an apartment in New Haven for herself, her 17-year-old son and a 9-year-old grandson.
After a futile search for a job there, Serrano found work as a health-care aide in Trumbull, a suburb in nearby Fairfield County. She started night classes at Gateway Community College at the end of May in hopes of earning an EMT license — the ticket, she hopes, to a better-paying, more stable job.
But despite the progress she’s made, Serrano and others like her share a sinking feeling that Connecticut, by some measures the nation’s richest state, is not working for them. It’s a feeling she shares with other working-class Americans who can’t understand why the current economic prosperity seems to be passing them by.
Everything feels like a struggle. Serrano commutes a half-hour over Connecticut’s famously congested roads in the used car she bought, but the job in Trumbull pays $12.30 an hour, more than many of the available jobs in New Haven. Her state rental assistance ran out in April, so Serrano has been cobbling together overtime to make up the difference.
She doesn’t think her two-bedroom New Haven apartment, behind an alley and up two flights of stairs, is worth the nearly $1,000 a month she pays. But rent is high all over Connecticut, and it’s a quiet place to read and write, with a park around the corner for her grandson.
“I focus on my home,” Serrano said. “With everything I’ve endured, it’s important to me.”
Serrano’s daily struggles are symptoms of a state in crisis. For decades, Connecticut coasted fat and happy off defense firms, insurance companies, and a handful of super-rich financiers who came for the manicured lawns and to escape the higher taxes of neighboring New York and New Jersey. But the good times have ended, and Connecticut has been caught flat-footed.
Blue chip companies like General Electric have either left or are threatening to leave. A yawning budget deficit continues to loom over the state, amplified by some of the nation’s most glaring economic inequality. Greenwich, home to hedge funders and Manhattan corporate titans, and the Norman Rockwell suburbs of Westport, New Canaan and Darien share few priorities with Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, gritty cities struggling with searing poverty and fiscal disaster. Connecticut’s political leaders must choose between what seem like equally rotten options: cut services, and push more burden onto the urban poor, or hike taxes, and risk repelling both the suburban rich who pay much of the freight and new businesses that might consider moving here. Put simply, Connecticut is in a bind with precious little room to maneuver.
Connecticut’s troubles are extreme but hardly unique. The recovery that has entrenched Connecticut into the haves and have-nots has been unequal in other regions as well – from Florida to California and down to Texas. As the stock market climbs but wages remain relatively flat, the Constitution State serves as a troubling bellwether of national priorities that seem to favor wealth creation for the few before investments in the broader economy.