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, slinked by the dog, and bought the 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 reviewing those previous 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 available to fill up pages 3 and 4. Of all the snapshots, the one that particularly caught my eye showed two elderly people, Eugene and Rusty Moye, who were featured because they formed the first biracial couple in Cos Cob (probably Greenwich, added the caption) when they married in 1951.
Say, now that was something! 1951. Fifteen years before Martin Luther King belted out his I had a dream speech, this enclave of white dominance 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 the United States at that time. It still is in some parts. So much so, that you barely see a biracial couple in this town some sixty years later. Heck, you can barely see a black person at all. According to statistics, there are fewer than a 1,000 African-American residents inGreenwich. 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, it seems to me an anomaly. But there you have it. It happened.
On one hand racism has hardly been an issue in Greenwich because there has hardly been another race in the town to make it worth there being one. It may be that some residents like it that way very much. But does that mean that this entire town is racist? Well, if we are to go by the 2008 election results, it would appear not. Nearly 60% of those who voted chose Obama; that’s about 7 percentage points above the final tally nationally. So, there certainly is something to say for that. And as a youth, the black friends I had were not given a rough time, as far as I am aware. As far as I am aware, I insist. Maybe my awareness wasn’t keen back then. But diversity of the kind you would find in many other parts of the country is clearly lacking here. And, as I said, there most certainly is a percentage of the population that likes it that way.
I studied the picture again; Eugene and Rusty Moye looked like a couple still very much in love. She gazes at him lovingly as he looks ahead with smiling eyes.
I went on perusing. For all my poking and nudging at the Greenwich Time, I have to acknowledge that the newspaper has always been fairly adept at presenting other sides of life here. Today was no different. For instance, 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. Rice, milk, bread. Some were single mothers, while others were elderly widows or teenagers struggling to get by. That’s right, even in upscale, elite Greenwich.
To a foreigner, which 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. 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. In a town whose median home price soars above the 1 million dollar mark, to affront that kind of standard of living on just a measly few bucks boggles the mind.
Just what explains that number and how it should be explained is not easy, but let it be known that there are many residents here who have a hard time of it. And it has been like that for long as I can remember. I 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, but it was especially awkward for them. Most wouldn’t even show their faces and would call back to us from their living rooms telling us where to put the stuff. They would ask us to leave the food at the door. And we would.
Are these people representative of Greenwich? Hardly. You would be hard-pressed to find visual confirmation of poverty there. I am also glad to say they aren’t, if it only means that no one in town goes hungry. But it would be equally misleading. I feel it is my duty to bring to everyone’s attention a part of the town which so many people seem to overlook. Just because this community is home to estates that cost over $50 million doesn’t mean the other half doesn’t exist, even though it is not a half at all. It is much less, but there nonetheless. It is facts like these that made me decide to write this book.
If Greenwich did not boast the status that it does, this section would be meaningless. But it does. It is rich. Filthy rich. Let’s not deny it or hide it. It’s has a collective prosperity which, more than any other aspect of the town or achievement of its residents, gives it its fame. But exactly what was Greenwich’s wealth anyway? How rich was it? How big was this patrimony it possessed? Does it deserve the reputation as being the “richest town in the country” as it is often casually referred to? Can the numbers back up the claim?
People in general need to measure themselves up to something. It’s a constant in human behavior. They need lists and more 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. Where does Greenwich stand? 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 Greenwich at 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 could distort reality. There is another list of the most affluent places of a thousand people or more, in other words, including these 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 too, but due to the stiff competition, it slides back to 79th position.
I guess I should have accepted all of this as good news since it would finally silence all those people who have bad-mouthed my hometown without knowing the facts. Now they would know that everyday people are from Greenwich. Now they would know that disadvantaged people live there too. Finally, its residents could free themselves of such an unhealthy stigma. The town didn’t even make the top 50. It was just an ordinary place with ordinary citizens leading ordinary lives. Right?
Well, unfortunately that wasn’t what I thought. Not at all. In fact, I was pretty miffed. How could all of these other place be out-asseting it my hometown? What was up with that? What do they mean this isn’t the richest own in the country? “That’s bullshit,” I grumbled.
I plowed on in search of just the right data that would back up my hypothesis, as any lame researcher would do, and I wasn’t going to give up until I found it. No one was going to debunk my assertion by playing around with a few wimpy statistics. Why don’t we start by getting rid of those shitty little villages and show what a real town can do!
My efforts paid off. You see, a closer look at the those endless 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 it also 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, Illinoiswith 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 pitiful 99th!! 83 towns register 5,000 households or less.
What happens when we stand the town up against the big boys, say 50,000+ residents? What do you know! Not so surprisingly Greenwich leads the pack, and by quite some margin. So, not only does the town have wealth, it has a wealth of wealth. No other town, none of those dinky little municipalities can stand up to it. It was at the top. Still numero uno after all of these years.
“Damn straight,” I said to myself with the maturity of a high-schooler, before standing up and flipping the bird at the screen. “Fuckin’ A.”
That issue having been solved, I now had other things to do that day.