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Income inequality is surging, and there are few countries where it is rising faster than the United States. The distance between rich and poor is greater in America than nearly all other developed countries, making the US a leader in a trend that economists warn has dire consequences. GlobalPost sets out on a reporting journey to get at the ‘ground truth’ of inequality through the lenses of education, race, immigration, health care, government, labor and natural resources. The hope is to hold a mirror up to the US to see how it compares to countries around the world.
America's wealthiest metropolitan area is also one of the country's least equal.
Comparing the Divide: Upward mobility becomes harder to achieve as inequality grows, and it has become a nearly impossible task for those at the bottom both in Thailand and Bridgeport, Connecticut. - two places that are more than 8,000 miles apart but very close in their Gini coefficient: 0.539 (Bridgeport) and 0.536 (Thailand).
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The fragile peace of Ogden Street, of the houses facing Washington Park, of the families along Brook and Stillman and Arctic, is interrupted night after night by gunfire and sirens and the shouting of young men.
In the past six months, nine residents of Bridgeport’s Eastside neighborhood were gunned down, many at random, four before their 16th birthday. In two separate incidents this summer, 15-year-olds were killed after leaving ‘sweet sixteen’ parties, police say, by boys ejected for fighting. But the boys came back.
“They just drive up and open up on a house,” said a woman from Ogden Street whose neighbor lost her daughter in one of the murders. “It’s children killing children, they got nothing better to do.”
Asked for her name, she added, “What, so they can come shoot me down? Hell no!”
“As long as we go home at night, I guess, it’s okay. It’s like we’re invisible.”~Clara Bing
Welcome to Fairfield County, Connecticut, the wealthiest metropolitan area in the country, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, but also among the most unequal in terms in income distribution.
Down the highway headed south, in another Fairfield County community, gritty Bridgeport seems an awfully long way away. The 61,000 residents of Greenwich are oriented to the southwest — toward Manhattan, with its haute culture and financial district. The idea that Greenwich residents should feel somehow responsible, or even concerned, about the plight of 145,000 people in Bridgeport strikes many as odd — if not absurd.
“I don’t think of it at all,” said Karen Schiff, a well-dressed young woman heading home from Greenwich train station from her job in New York. “I don’t think I’ve ever even met someone from there. Maybe I drove through, I don’t know.”
Beside her, waiting at a bus stop just across the street from the Greenwich station was Clara Bing, who commutes each day from the nearby town of Norwalk to work at a local dry cleaning business. Bing used to make the same trip from Bridgeport, her hometown, but moved closer to work to cut down on commuting time.
Above: views of Greenwich, CT on Nov. 26, 2012. Below: scenes of urban blight in downtown Bridgeport, CT on November 27, 2012.
“Funny thing is that lady probably meets someone from Bridgeport every day,” Bing said. Turning toward Greenwich Avenue, with its Baccarat jewelry shop, Apple store and dozens of expensive boutiques, she said, “I used to ride in from Bridgeport with the people who work in those stores every day. As long as we go home at night, I guess, it’s okay. It’s like we’re invisible.”
The distance between these two places is not much, about 20 miles, but the gulf that separates them often seems too great to navigate for many residents on both sides of the divide. The vastly different experience of growing up in either — cannot be exaggerated. Bridgeport with its dilapidated factories and graffiti-scarred public housing projects is a world away from the half-dozen other affluent communities that line the Connecticut shoreline between them, such as Westport and New Canaan.
But the affluent enclave of Greenwich tops them all. Swimming in the wealth extracted from Wall Street the hedge fund and private equity groups nestled in the downtown business districts anchor communities centered around lavish country clubs, colonial mansions and public schools that send dozens of children to the Ivy League each year.
All except Bridgeport, that is. To walk down Bridgeport’s deserted Main Street, with its boarded up stores and hard-luck hotels, and then stroll down Greenwich Avenue later that day, is to experience different planets.
The crime rate is high in Bridgeport. Gun violence is a fact of life and too often death. That’s true not only in Bridgeport, but also across the economic divide, as the school shooting in nearby Newtown so tragically proved. Though there