Complete Self-Delusion In New Haven, Connecticut

I'm just back from New Haven, Connecticut, where my Yale class (1972) and the ones immediately before and after (1971 and 1973) held a "mini-reunion."  And I'm reminded once again that the political orthodoxy among these seeming best-and-brightest people makes the Manhattan orthodoxy seem mild by comparison.  To give you one indicator, looking around for political bumper stickers on cars, I spotted many of them, and every single one I saw was for the same candidate: Bernie Sanders.  Really.

To me the single most striking aspect of both the Manhattan and Yale versions of the orthodoxy is the smug self-satisfaction that "we" are helping "them" with massive socialist-model government programs and handouts, all while absolutely refusing to look around and observe the evidence of the destructive effects of these efforts.

The first session I attended after arriving was a presentation by a guy named Michael Morand, identified as Yale Deputy Chief Communications Officer.  The subject of the presentation was the renaissance in New Haven since we attended some 40+ years ago.  Or at least, it is a "renaissance" according to Morand. 

I will start by agreeing with Morand on one thing.  The area of New Haven immediately adjacent to the Yale campus, including the heart of downtown, is much improved since the early 70s.  There are new and renovated buildings in these areas, new and improved retail uses along Chapel Street and Broadway, and several new and better restaurants.  These things are visible to anyone who comes to visit the university, because they are right there in front of your eyes.  Morand could have pointed this out and left it at that, but that was not why he was here; he had bigger things in mind.

So instead of sticking to a plausible story of some gentrification immediately around the campus, Morand set out to prove that New Haven is having a "renaissance."  He had a slide show full of photographs.  Beautiful new buildings -- almost all of them Yale or Yale-backed buildings.  Heartwarming stories of all the efforts by Yale personnel to improve the lives of the people in the town.  Yale students and faculty running music and art programs for kids out in the "community."  Pictures of the bright new low-rise public housing projects that have replaced some of the prior grim high rises.  A new light-industrial area called "Science Park" backed by Yale to bring jobs back to an otherwise abandoned factory neighborhood.  And so forth.

Then he got to some statistics, which is where he started to lose me.  I guess he didn't realize that he might have an aficionado of population and income statistics like yours truly in his audience.  The first statistic he tossed out was that New Haven is (supposedly) "the fastest-growing city in New England."  Huh?  I knew that that couldn't possibly be right, so I looked it up immediately on my return.

According to decennial Census data compiled at Wikipedia here, New Haven reached its peak population of 164,443 in the 1950 census, and has declined to 130,282 as of the most recent (2014) estimate.  That's sure not my idea of "growth."  The same table does show that New Haven's population bottomed out at 123,626 in the 2000 census, and has increased by a little over 5% since then.  Is that what Morand was talking about?  Well, to take just one non-random example, the population of New England's largest city, Boston, while also well off from a 1950 peak of 801,444 to a current (2014) 655,884, has increased by over 11% and 66,000 people since 2000 (589,141 to 655,884).  New Haven is not even close to that.  Nearly every city in New England has lost population since peaks somewhere between 1930 and 1960 (this is true not just of New Haven and Boston, but also of Springfield, Cambridge and Lynn, MA, Providence, RI, Portland, ME, Bridgeport and Hartford, CT); but there are exceptions, notably Stamford, CT, and Manchester, NH, both of which hit all-time highs in 2014.  Stamford's 2014 population, at 128,278, is up over 9% since 2000.  How could that also not count as "faster growing" than New Haven? 

And of course, now that I knew that Morand was blowing smoke about New Haven's population, I thought to check more broadly into relevant statistics on income and poverty.  After all, New Haven has all those Yale geniuses right there, cooking up all kinds of ideas and programs to uplift the downtrodden and eliminate poverty.  Likely, after decades of this, they will have largely succeeded by now.  Right?

Actually, that couldn't be more wrong.  Here are some relevant numbers:

Before I left town, I thought to take a quick drive around to get my own impression of how things are going, not in the area immediately adjacent to the university, but rather in some of the remaining 80% of the town.  My verdict: sorry, but it looked worse -- a lot worse -- than when I was a student back in the 70s.  I went down Howard Avenue to the City Point area, then out Winchester Avenue to Newhallville, and back down Shelton Avenue and Dixwell Avenue.  If you don't recognize these names, don't feel bad, because almost nobody who has gone to Yale would recognize them either.  These are parts of New Haven where Yalies (except for crazies like me) just don't go.   The housing in these places is in an extremely deteriorated condition.  At least half the houses looked like they had not had a paint job in the forty plus years since I left Yale, and many had not only peeling paint but also broken, or loose, or even boarded-up, doors or windows.  Also remarkable was the complete lack of any renovation or upgrade projects in progress.  Contrast this to the former "bad" neighborhoods of New York, like Harlem, or even Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, where renovations are going on everywhere; or to Greenwich Village, where seemingly every block has three renovations in progress.

But wait a minute.  New Haven is literally ground zero for government programs to cure poverty, with the Yale faculty in the forefront of designing and implementing the efforts.  Back in our college days, New Haven had the premier "urban renewal" program in the country, headed by one Ed Logue, who had declared the goal of making New Haven America's first "slum free" city.  From "Urban Renewal in New Haven" by Joseph Montagna, apparently written in about 1979 for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute:

The urban renewal program in New Haven was undertaken on a massive scale. No other city in the United States could equal the ambitious commitment to such a large scale redevelopment of its business and residential districts. On a per capita basis, New Haven outranked all American cities in securing funds which produced an impressive experiment in the physical and human rejuvenation of a city.

New Haven built public housing everywhere and was a national leader in public housing.  Today New Haven has 2,492 units of low-income public housing and 4,479 families receiving Section 8 vouchers, in a city of only 130,000.  At two per household (low estimate), that's close to 15% of the population of the city receiving low income housing assistance.  For comparison, the percent of people in the United States living in public housing is around 1% per HUD data here, and the percent receiving Section 8 vouchers is around 3%, per data here.  So New Haven has almost quadruple the percent of people receiving low income housing assistance as the national norm.  Food stamps?  Nationwide about 14% of the population receives them.  In New Haven it's more than double -- well over 28%, over 37,000 people out of 130,000, per the Yale Daily News just yesterday.  And these are just some notable examples.  New Haven is a champion of utilizing every government anti-poverty effort out there.

If these things worked even a little, one would think that New Haven would have a poverty rate somewhat below, if not significantly below, national norms.  If these things worked even a little, one would think that New Haven would have per capita income levels above, if not significantly above, national norms.  But instead New Haven has poverty double the national norm and per capita income at or below the level of dead-last Mississippi.  In other words, it's not that these programs are just not working.  They are actively destructive of work effort and of striving and of upward mobility, trapping wildly disproportionate numbers of New Haven's citizens into generations of unbreakable poverty.

So we all sat there looking at Morand's pretty pictures of the new housing projects that have replaced the old housing projects, and of the Yalies teaching music and art to the kids in the "community," and we all felt good about ourselves that finally "our" efforts to help "them" were turning things around.  That is, all of us felt good about ourselves except for me, because I already basically knew what the numbers would show when I went home and took a few minutes to look them up.

Before closing, I should mention that Morand did mention a few things that I thought were at least constructive rather than destructive.  These included efforts to lure start-up employers to New Haven and to remove some of the terrible scars left by prior "urban renewal" efforts (e.g., the "Oak Street Connector").  But left unmentioned were serious challenges faced by New Haven with no solutions short of very serious tough love.  These include uncompetitive personal and corporate income taxes and vast overhangs from near-worst-in-the-nation unfunded public pension obligations at both the state and local levels.  Not to mention vast "anti-poverty" efforts that seem designed only to increase government dependency, idleness, and anger among the subject population.  Feel-good presentations by Yale's New Haven boosters are not going to cure these issues.  If I had a business to locate somewhere, I sure know that I would not choose New Haven.