A wealth of numbers
While waiting for the gang to head into the city I continued with my newly acquired morning routine. I walked down to the local deli again and bought the real Sunday Greenwich time to snoop around and see what was up there for today. The year was coming to an end so the news level was at a minimum as the papers spent most of their time review these twelve months. The Greenwich Time had a small section on the best pictures of 2009, an exhibit which did little justice to the creative capacity of this town. Maybe that was all they had around to fill up pages 3 and 4. Of all the snapshots, the one that caught my eye showed two elderly people, Eugene and Rusty Moye, who formed the first biracial couple in Cos Cob (probably Greenwich, added the caption, along with the rest of the world) when they married in 1951.
Say, now that was something! 1951. 15 years before Martin Luther King’s I had a dream speech, this enclave of white power was already opening its doors up to a certain degree of tolerance. It may not have been a first in the world, like Johnson’s electric house, but certainly a rarity in most parts of theUnited States at that time. It still is. Really. We may have elected a black man to be president, but we can’t seem to screw. So much so, that you barely see a biracial couple in this town some sixty years later. Heck, you can black person. There are fewer than a 1,000 Africab-American residents in this town. That constitutes just 1.6% of the population compared to 10% statewide and 13.6% on a national level. So, integration may have jumped to an early start in this town, but it didn’t go very far from there. More than a statement about town attitudes, but it seems to me more like an anomaly.
Oh, say what they will, and vote for whom they will vote, racism has hardly been an issue because there has hardly been another race in the town to bring it up. I cannot say what the current statutes say at places like the numerous country clubs in town, but I imagine there exists a de facto rule, and a highly non-representative ratio of whites to blacks. In the picture, Eugene and Rusty Moye look like a couple still very much in love. She gazes at him lovingly, as he looks ahead with smiling eyes.
Page 8 featured a list of requests sent by local people, many of whom lived in this town and were in want of some very, very basic needs. Many were single mothers, widows, teenagers who were struggling to get by. That’s right, even in upscale Greenwich. To a foreigner, which to me is anyone who comes from beyond the Fairfield County border, this may come as a big surprise, but not to someone who grew up here and understands that not every part of the town is that fancy, and for all my poking and nudging at the Greenwich Time, the newspaper has always been fairly adept at presenting both sides. Today was just another example.
Greenwich is a wealthy town, there is no doubt about that. And there are millions across the country who associate it solely with this enormous affluence, but there are residents here who really go through rough times. There are working class neighborhoods, lower income families and even housing projects. 4% of the local population lives beneath the poverty line. 4% of 60,000 comes to about 2,500 people, which is no trifle figure, and 2.5 % somehow make it by with an income of 50% below the poverty line. Just what explains that number and how it should be interpreted is beyond me, but I do recall as a teenager taking boxed Thanksgiving meals to several low-income housing apartments. It was awkward for me as a junior in high school used to playing golf on the fairways of the Greenwich Country Club, but it was especially awkward for them. Most wouldn’t even show their faces and would ask us live the food at the door. I wasn’t sure if I felt like a saint or an idiot.
Are they representative of Greenwich? I would like to say they are, and I would rather say they weren’t, if that means anything, and if it meant saying thank God no one in town goes hungry, but it may well be that they do symbolize a part of the town which so many people choose to overlook. Just because the town is home to estates costing over $50 million doesn’t mean the other half doesn’t exist, albeit a minority.
Just exactly what was Greenwich’s wealth anyway? How rich is it? People, in general, need to measure themselves up to something. It’s constant. They need lists and lists to prove where they are in life and this is no exception. In fact, in America particularly, people indulge in assessing each other through money and personal assets. Greenwich is often casually regarded as the “richest town in the country”. But is it really the wealthiest community in the nation?
Well, by some indicators, it isn’t. Not by a long shot. One statistic known as the “highest-income place based on per capita income” places Greenwichat a humbling 55th in a list of the Top-100 richest communities with at least 1000 households. This register is considered the best and supposedly most reliable because it eliminates very small communities which can distort reality. There is a list of the most affluent places of a thousand people or more, in other words, including much smaller towns, and that tells a very different story. There are tiny hamlets around the nation with 5 residents and a median income of 200,000. Greenwich is also listed there, but due to the stiff competition, it slides back to 79th.
I guess I should have accepted this as the kind of good news that would finally silence all those people who bad-mouthed the community without knowing the facts. Now everyday people fromGreenwichcould finally be freed of such an unhealthy stigma. It didn’t even make the top 50, for the love of God, so lay off and let the residents of this ordinary town go about learning how to be just ordinary. Right?
Well, unfortunately that wasn’t what I thought. Suddenly I discovered I was reacting in the exact opposite way. Part of the premise for this book was that I would have a chance to analyze the most prosperous community inAmerica, for better or for worse. If it turned out the dozens of other towns actually out-asseted it, what was I to do? Plus, it just didn’t match up.
“What the fuck are they talking about? What do they mean this isn’t the richest own in the country? That can’t be right.”
I plowed on in search of just the right data which would back up my hypothesis, as any lame researcher would do, and wasn’t going to give up until I found it. No one was going to debunk that assertion by playing around with a few wimpy statistics.
My efforts paid off. You see, a closer look at the those lists showed that Greenwich was far larger than any of the other municipalities – it’s a veritable metropolis in comparison – suggesting that not only was there a lot of wealth there, but also it was on a massive scale.
Consider the list of the towns with 1000+ population. Greenwich’s populace is, according to the statistic, 61,171. The next largest town is Westport, Connecticut with 25,749 people and third place goes to Lake Forest, Illinois with 20,059. Of the 100 towns, 67 have less the 10% of Greenwich’s population. Similar results come up when you analyze the second list which pits communities of 1000+ households. Here Greenwich (55th) weighs in at 23,230 households, while the next closest is none other than Beverly Hills with 15,035, and places a lame 99th!! 83 towns register 5,000 households or less.
What happens when we stand the town up with the big boys, say 50,000+ residents? Not so surprisingly it leads the pack, and by quite some margin. There are other lists which include median income households, where its place fluctuates, but one thing is clear, considering its size, Greenwich remains a very wealthy town and, to a certain degree, maintains a position of prestige that elevates it to realms which quite possibly reality says it shouldn’t be.