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Rich Island: The Wealthiest Cities And Towns In RI

Monday, August 29, 2011


For the first time in history, four cities and towns in Rhode Island have median family incomes over $100,000, according to data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Those municipalities – Barrington, East Greenwich, Exeter and Little Compton- all saw significant growth in the money families make (in some cases, over 50 percent over ten years) while some of the state’s traditionally poor communities watched their income levels barely adjust for inflation.

The numbers become that much more eye-opening when compared with annual data produced by Rhode Island Kids Count, which shows the stark advantages children coming from wealthier communities will have compared with their urban counterparts over the course of their lives.

RI’s Income Gap Growing Rapidly

And when compared with census data from the past two decades, the Ocean State proves to have an income gap between the wealthy and poor families growing quicker than almost every state in the country, second only to Connecticut, according to the 2011 Kids Count report, which was released in May.

“The gap between the incomes of Rhode Island’s richest and poorest families also is growing,” the report stated. “In Rhode Island, the average income of the wealthiest 20 percent of families increased 44 percent or $43,438 during the past twenty years, while the average income of the poorest 20 percent of families remained essentially unchanged. The wealthiest 20 percent of families in Rhode Island have average incomes that are 7.5 times larger than the average incomes of the poorest 20 percent of families.”

A number of factors are to blame for the reason the income gap between the wealthy and the poor has more than tripled over the past 30 years, “including a minimum wage far below historic levels
despite recent increases, the general stagnation of wages and compensation, the decline of unionization, high school graduates starting at lower wages and high school degrees bringing less and less value over time,” according to the report.

The Richest Communities

The growth in the wealthiest cities and towns in the state over the past ten years has been exponential, however. Barrington moved into the top spot when it comes to median family income, jumping from $84,657 in 1999 all the way to $116,451 in the latest census.

Barrington previously ranked behind East Greenwich, which saw its income level jump to $112,484 compared with $90,221 in 1999. In the last decade’s census, East Greenwich was the only town in the state with a median family income over $90,000.

The other towns topping the $100,000 mark in terms of median family income were Exeter and Little Compton. The tiny towns saw monumental jumps in their numbers, with Exeter rising from $74,157 all the way to $106,761 in the recent census and Little Compton skyrocketing up to $109,265 from $62,750 in 1999.

Little Compton saw the largest increase of all. In the 1999 census, the town’s median family income fell outside the top 15 cities and towns from around the state. Now it trails only Barrington and East Greenwich.

The Single-Parent Home Factor

It is no surprise that young people growing up in the state’s wealthier cities and towns have significant advantages over those growing up in poorer communities. For example, students from three of the four communities with median family incomes over $100,000 (Barrington, East Greenwich and Exeter) attend three of the top five public high schools in the state, according to GoLocalProv’s ranking of the state’s schools released in May.

But another key statistic is the number of children growing up in two-parent families versus single-parent families. In Rhode Island, 36 percent of children live in single-parent families, which Kids Count reports ranks 38th in the country. 79 percent of children living in poverty in the state come from single-parent families.

In Central Falls, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket, more than 40 percent of children are growing up in single-parent families, the report says. In the wealthier cities and towns, the number tends to be 15 percent or less.

“Economic status during early childhood can have a profound effect on children’s health and development,” the Kids Count report states. “Stable family structure is strongly correlated with economic well-being. Married-parent families have the highest economic status, followed by cohabiting-parent families and then by single-parent families. Entering marriages or cohabiting relationships (especially with the child’s biological father) is associated with increased economic status. Divorces and exits from cohabiting relationships are associated with declines in economic well-being.”

Others Key Factors

None of the statistics that show children growing up in wealthier families are at all shocking. It doesn’t take a report to state that those coming from towns where the family incomes are above $100,000 tend to indicate a more privileged lifestyle than those growing up in the urban core.

But comparing the Kids Count report with numbers from the Census data does help paint the picture of just how advantageous it can be to grow up in place like Barrington, East Greenwich, Exeter or Little Compton.

Whether it’s in education, health care, obesity rates, asthma rates or mental health numbers, the richest communities continue to outperform the poorest ones across the board. And every sign points to children living in poverty as most at-risk of no reaching their full potential, according the Kids Count report.

“Rhode Island’s child poverty rate was 16.9% in 2009,” the report says. “There were 38,604 Rhode Island children living in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold between 2007 and 2009. Many families with incomes above the poverty level also have a difficult time meeting the high costs of housing, utilities, food, child care and health care. Child care subsidies, health insurance, affordable housing and tax policies that support working families are important tools to ensure the economic well-being of Rhode Island families and to improve child outcomes.”

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