Big Data Backs Up Hunches—& Offers Some Surprises

77 percent of the people were repeat users of her agency’s food pantry. They were also returning to the shelter.

When Christian Community Action (CCA) Executive Director Rev. Bonita Grubbs went to a meeting to make her case recently, she had a new blue weapon in her hands: the “Greater New Haven Community Index 2013,” with the numbers behind the faces she sees every day.

Grubbs and others from the community gathered at the Institute Library on Chapel Street Wednesday evening to talk about that report, the Greater New Haven Community Index 2013, and about its real-world implications in New Haven.

A not-for-profit group called DataHaven published the index. It explored questions like whether you live close to transportation, how often you use the library, whether you are obese and feel safe in your neighborhood. The survey favored social data to try to give a picture of people’s sense of overall well-being, security, and hope in their neighborhoods and daily lives.

The index is based on the U. S. Census Bureau 2011 American Community survey as well as an unprecedented 2600 randomly selected phone interviews and measures not only economic well being, health, transportation issues, and civic life in New Haven but the inner and outer suburbs from Milford to Madison.

It could constitute the basis both for collective action and measuring progress, said the lead author, DataHaven’s Executive Director Mark Abraham.

Click here for the full index online.

And click here for DataHaven’s Well Being Survey, whose findings figured prominently in the index. (Click here for a story about a similar DataHaven report prepared a year ago.)

Abraham Wednesday night invited Grubbs, New Haven writer Mark Oppenheimer, Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, and Hamden Director of Planning and Zoning Leslie Creane to discuss how to harness the data for social change.

DataHavenTheir audience of about 50 people, many activists or social and health agency staffers, filled the book-lined back room at the Institute Library for the panel discussion.

Grubbs said she already knew in general the stark numbers related to jobs—for example of the 47,000 “living wage” jobs (paying at least $20 per hour, in Greater New Haven), only 19 percent go to people living in the city of New Haven.

Or about pestiferous achievement gap: 69 percent third-graders in outer suburbs read at grade level while only 26 per cent do in New Haven, with the number lower in the Hill neighborhood that CCA serves.

DataHavenGrubbs also knew anecdotally what the survey confirmed with numbers on people’s sense of safety: Most higher-income suburbanites felt perfectly safe to take walks in the night; only two out of ten people in low income city neighborhoods said they feel that way.

But now Grubbs had the numbers. She put blue post-its on relevant pages of Abraham’s report and took the data to her meeting with potential funders. She said the new data “provided me with facts to back up my feeling.”

The report produced factoid revelations even to someone like Grubbs, long in the trenches of anti poverty and social justice issues.

Library use, for example. She’d been aware that the library was busy. She was still surprised to see the index shows that while statewide library use went up 5 percent, and Greater New Haven 14 percent, in New Haven itself, that increase has been a whopping 40 percent.

That’s something to be looked at, she said.

Matthew Higbee is one of Mark Abraham’s eight co-authors of the index, which was funded by Yale University and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (CFGNH), among other donors.

Each of these data driven guys was asked what surprised them about the index.

Abraham’s answer: the aging of our area’s population. Or as he put it: “There are four times as many 65th birthday parties today as ten years ago.”

That has huge implications for housing, transportation, and support services for area planners to consider.

Higbee, who works at CFGNH, said that he was personally surprised to find that about 10 percent of New Haveners bike to work, according to the report. “That goes to happiness,” he said. The index’s fundamental purpose was to measure aspects of people’s sense of happiness, security, life quality, and where that can all be improved beyond the usual economic indicators.

“The biggest [factual] surprise to me was how well New Haven fared over all. By a measure of factors, we came in 19th of 130 in overall well being” among cities of 400,000 or more people, Higbee said.

Data, Data Everywhere But What About Policy?
Mayor Jackson said a 13-year-old in 2013 will confronted with more data in a data than his grandparents were in a year. “We have to be careful what we track and do what’s relevant—how to transfer it into public policy that’s rational,” Jackson said.

“We’re smart. We’d know how to fix it [diabetes or obesity] if it were easy. The data says we have an obesity problem. But what can we do to address that and two other things?The challenge is to do more than one thing at a time,” added Creane.

Then she added, “I’m going to say the word: regionalism—169 towns; 169 purchasing agents. That’s nuts.”

“The data is a motivation for action,” added Grubbs.

Tags: , , , ,

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: robn on December 12, 2013  9:44am

The Living Wage data is a bit confusing.
If you go to page 35 of the report, there’s a tiiiiny graphic in the bottom right hand corner suggesting that New Haven residents working in the city have a much higher chance of earning a living wage than do New Haven residents working outside of the city.

Also the middle right hand graphic suggests that residents of High, Medium and Low income all have about the same % of living wage jobs relatively…compared to the large block of commuters. So do 92% of high income residents work outside of the city? Do they have non-living wage jobs? Do they have NO job? None of these suppositions makes much sense.

posted by: robn on December 12, 2013  9:51am


My compliments to DH…this is generally a very interesting report and I plan to pick it apart in coming weeks, as should policy makers.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on December 12, 2013  10:40am

We cannot afford the expense of separate gov’t services for 169 municipalities, but what politician has the guts to make an issue of it?

posted by: LeeCruz on December 12, 2013  2:21pm

Great job Mark! Thank you Mayor Jackson for bringing up the need to think and act as a region. It is our only hope for moving forward.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 12, 2013  3:17pm

I wish I was there last night, I was going to go, but as it so often does in life, things came up. One thing though, this statement

“The biggest [factual] surprise to me was how well New Haven fared over all. By a measure of factors, we came in 19th of 130 in overall well being” among cities of 400,000 or more people,”

New Haven only has 130,000 people going by the 2010 census, maybe 140,000 when school is in session at SCSU and Yale.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 12, 2013  3:30pm

In regards to regions though, it’s great that mayor Jackson was there because if there’s two cities that should coordinate more it’s New Haven and Hamden. First off for starters, the racists in Hamden can get over themselves and tear down the fence separating the western parts of each city. It’s ridiculous, the crack epidemic is long gone and the crime rate in the new housing project on the New Haven side is lower than the crime rate in the Newhall section of Hamden. Aside from that though, Hamden and New Haven flow into each other very seamlessly.(makes sense, the lower parts of Hamden are original streetcar suburbs). There should be more focus on better ways on improving connectivity, whether that’s creating better or more frequent bus routes, better pedestrian access by improving lighting and sidewalks(even small things like removing weed growing up makes for a more welcoming feeling), more bike lanes(Hamden extending up the Dixwell lane or having ones branch off it as well as the State St lane would be good starters) or filling in dead zones along the border on major streets, particularly in NewHall. For Hamden specifically, allowing more two family homes in the southern part of town wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 12, 2013  4:32pm


According to the report, of New Haven’s 47,452 living wage jobs, 8% (3,796 jobs) are held by residents of New Haven’s High Income Areas (Westville, Prospect Hill, East Rock and East Shore). Of the 10,114 workers living in New Haven’s High Income Areas, 56% (5,664 people) earn a living wage.

So according to my analysis, 3,796 residents (37.5% of residents in New Haven’s High Income Areas) hold living wage jobs in New Haven, while 1,868 (18.5% of residents in New Haven’s High Income Areas) earn a living wage outside of New Haven. The rest of New Haven’s 4,450 residents in High Income Areas actually don’t hold a job that pays a living wage.

So 18.5% of High Income Area residents earn a living wage outside of New Haven, not 92%.

What this report shows us is that, in many ways, New Haven’s High Income Areas are very diverse and not monolithic bastions of elites like we sometimes like to imagine. Furthermore, the high percentage of residents of High Income Areas not working a job that pays a living wage may not account for people that work more than one non-living wage job. That would be a question for the people that put this report together.

posted by: Matt Higbee on December 12, 2013  4:52pm

TheMadcap: To clarify, I was referring to the greater New Haven region as defined in the report.