Even Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein was surprised to hear that her town’s 06883 ZIP code is the wealthiest in Southwestern Connecticut.
“I’m a little bit shocked that we came in the highest,” Weinstein said Tuesday. “When I drive around the community, I obviously know we have some wealthy people, but I think it appears more diverse than that.”
Weston’s 06883 ZIP code is home to the wealthiest households in Southwestern Connecticut, with a median household income of $205,563 — more than seven times the income in Bridgeport’s 06608 ZIP code, which has the lowest median income in the region: $27,546.
Across the area, the designation of wealthiest ZIP codes is claimed by the usual suspects: Southport’s 06890 is No. 2 with $197,656 a year; Darien’s 06820 is No. 3 with $193,896 a year; and New Canaan’s 06840 is No. 4 with $191,750 a year.
Old Greenwich’s 06870 has the distinction of top Greenwich ZIP code at No. 5 with $191,705 a year. In Greenwich’s battle for bragging rights, the town’s 06878 ZIP code followed in eighth place, with $155,813 a year; 06807 in 13th place, with $140,208 a year; 06831 in 15th place with $122,413 a year and 06830 in 19th place with $111,990 a year.
While Weinstein didn’t expect her town to soar to the top of the list, Bridgeport’s Director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development David Kooris could have guessed where his city landed in the lineup. Bridgeport’s wealthiest ZIP code, 06606, ranked at No. 47, seven from the bottom, followed by Danbury’s 06810 ZIP code at No. 48 and five other Bridgeport ZIP codes — 06610, 06605, 06604, 06607 and 06608 — filling out the bottom five from No. 49 through No. 53, respectively.
Nor was Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson surprised by the towns at the top of the list, many of which are home to a large number of workers who commute to New York City for high-paying jobs.
“We have what you would consider a pretty efficient commute to New York City,” Stevenson said. “And there’s no question we really are a bedroom community for New York and the businesses there, as evidenced by the number of people who live in Darien and work in the financial sector.”
Of all 53 ZIP codes in Southwestern Connecticut, Darien’s 06820, which encompasses the entire town, has the highest percentage of workers employed in finance and insurance or real estate, with 35.8 percent of the city’s workforce in those fields. Old Greenwich’s 06870 ZIP code has the second highest share, with 32.8 percent of workers in those industries.
In addition to a high proportion of workers commuting to New York City, the small towns took their places near the top for a variety of other reasons, including high property values, which can sift lower-earners out of the pool for potential residents and a lack of diversity, when compared with larger areas.
Small neighborhoods with big properties float to the top of the list, even over well-to-do communities, depending on where the ZIP code boundary is drawn. For instance, the 06902 ZIP code containing Stamford’s Shippan neighborhood, which is home to pricey real estate and views of the Long Island Sound, doesn’t crack the list until No. 41.
“In 06902, the subdistrict within Shippan is probably higher than we are,” said Thomas Lombardo, president of the North Stamford Association, a neighborhood association in the city’s 06903 ZIP code, which came in at No. 6 on the list with a median income of $167,817 — roughly three times as high as the income in 06902.
“But it’s not broken down that way. That ZIP code encompasses part of the city’s West Side and south side that are not wealthy,” Lombardo said.
There certainly is wealth in 06902, and there is poverty, according to census data. The top 20 percent of households in 06902 hold more than half of the ZIP code’s wealth, and 06902 is also home to a poverty rate of 14.8 percent. So while Shippan Point is known as an affluent enclave in Stamford, the ZIP code’s economic diversity — and disparity — lands 06902 near the bottom of the list.
Overall, more than seven in 10 of the area’s ZIP codes have a median income that exceeds “middle class.” In the state of Connecticut, middle class — households which earn more than the bottom 40 percent, but less than the top 40 percent — have a median household income between $62,725 and $77,748. The only Southwestern Connecticut neighborhoods to fall into that window are Norwalk’s 06855 ZIP code, Seymour’s 06483 ZIP code and Stratford’s 06614 ZIP code. A total of 37 ZIP codes had higher earnings, while 12 had lower earnings.
While suburban neighborhoods took the top spots in the ZIP code rankings, the area’s urban hubs found themselves at the very bottom.
The income disparity between the area’s suburban spots and urban centers is staggering. In Weston, the lowest-earning quintile of the town’s population topped out at $85,513, which is higher than the top limit for wages among the lowest earning 80 percent of Bridgeport’s households, according to census data. Across Fairfield County, the top 5 percent of households earned 28.16 percent of the county’s wealth, meaning that elite bunch earned more than twice as much as the bottom 60 percent during the five-year period analyzed.
And just as the presence of workers in the financial sector in some of smaller, more affluent communities helped to guide them to the top of the list, much of the reason behind Bridgeport’s position at the bottom is due to workforce characteristics, according to Bridgeport’s Director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development David Kooris.
Decades ago, the 06608 ZIP code, which is the poorest in the area, was home to what Kooris called “an industrial corridor that contained 20,000 jobs, all within walking distance of the housing stock.” But as office buildings around the area left their urban centers for more suburban locations, Bridgeport’s jobs had to escape the city boundary.
“If we compare, for example, Stamford to Bridgeport, Bridgeport has 16 square miles; Stamford has at least twice that. So when in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as offices were leaving the traditional downtowns for suburban office parks, in Stamford when they moved to High Ridge Road and Long Ridge Road, they were all still in the city limits, so the downtown still benefitted from the fact that the city as a whole had the revenue,” Kooris said. “But in Bridgeport, when retail and offices left for the suburbs and the high-paying residential homeowners left, all that crossed city lines and went into Trumbull and Fairfield, which is a distinct difference.”
The result is that the blue-collar population that resided in the 06608 ZIP code a half-century ago had to find jobs elsewhere. That pattern has held steady over the last several decades, creating the need to “own two cars in your household and be able to drive to comparable paying jobs 10 miles away in Trumbull or Shelton, which is something the community is not able to do.”
Now 06608 is home to the highest poverty rate in Southwestern Connecticut, with 35.4 percent of the ZIP codes’ residents living below the poverty line, including 49.4 percent of the area’s children. It also has the second-highest unemployment rate in the area at 11.3 percent, behind neighboring ZIP code 06607, which has an unemployment rate of 14.9 percent.
Kooris is hopeful that the new Field Point redevelopment planned for a 50-acre lot within 06608 will help spur the neighborhood’s economy with millions of square feet of mixed-used development, including retail opportunities and other potential jobs created.
“We’re looking for good blue-collar employment opportunities within the city,” Kooris said. “We’re hoping that can help bring us back.”