New Haven, Connecticut, is forever “up and coming”; for years city officials have touted one redevelopment scheme after another. But the working-class residents in Yale’s backyard have been watching their neighborhoods sink ever deeper into despair. Community activists and labor groups charge that the city’s two flagship institutions, Yale University and the Yale New Haven Hospital system, have systematically excluded locals from job opportunities, and last December activists rallied in front of the hospital to press the city’s core economic engine to pump equity into its long-neglected neighbors.
The community-labor coalition New Haven Rising that recently pressured Yale University to agree to hire more New Haveners now hopes to secure a similar deal with Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH), the city’s second-largest employer, with over 12,000 employees (including 3,000 local workers) and about 4,100 medical staff. According to the group’s analysis, the hospital is growing dramatically, expanding employment by more than 50 percent, generating “$2.4 billion in revenue and $161 million in profit.”
December’s civil disobedience in the streets outside the hospital—resulting in the mass arrest of 134 demonstrators—was a show of both solidarity and desperation in a paradoxically divided city. If the Yale community’s elite insularity has been criticized for homogeneous whiteness in its professional and academic ranks, everyday poverty in New Haven is strikingly diverse, for better or worse.
Abby Feldman, who moved back to New Haven after going away for college, has found little to return to: Even with her bachelor’s degree, she’s juggling two or three jobs. Some friends have already moved out, she says, frustrated with the lack of job opportunities. As she herself struggles to string together a living from gigs in art therapy and restaurant work, “working at all different hours of the day,” she says, others lean on her for support. “A lot of friends come to me for help. They’re dealing with with unemployment, underemployment, even homelessness…. And it’s hard even to know what to tell them.”
A single census tract, 1402, the neighborhood south of the hospital known the Hill, embodies a pattern of systemic neglect: Child poverty among these 680 households exceeds 50 percent. The hospital overlooking it, combined with Yale University, provide about a third of local jobs, but precious few of them trickle down here. Disturbingly, while New Haven’s overall unemployment rate is lower now compared to four years ago, the proportion of jobless black and Latino residents remains about double that of whites, well over 15 percent.
In the Hill, hospital job prospects seem so rare they’ve taken on a certain mythic quality, according to New Haven Rising organizer Kenneth Reveiz, an artist by training. Like other young residents, they scrape by working several jobs, biking everywhere, and piling on thrift-store sweaters to get through freezing winter nights. Reveiz observes, “On every street…there are people who say, ‘I’m qualified…I want to work at the hospital, I got my degree so that I could work at the hospital, I spent my life trying to get a job at the hospital. And they’re just not let in.”