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Fairfield County leads state in median household income – and has potential for improvement

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A home in Weston that was built in 2007. Photo courtesy Multiple Listing Service

When it comes to the wealthiest areas in Connecticut, Fairfield County is still No. 1, and looks to stay there for the foreseeable future.

“Historically the wealth has been concentrated in Fairfield County,” said Joe McGee, vice president, public policy and programs at The Business Council of Fairfield County. “That’s been true for a long time, and it should continue.”

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2017 nine of the top 10 Connecticut municipalities in terms of median household income were in Fairfield County. (Woodbridge, in New Haven County, was the sole exception.) The average household income in the county was $89,773, compared with $73,781 for the state as a whole. In second place was Middlesex County at $81,673 and Tolland County was third at $81,312.

The top 10 communities from 2012 remained in that category, though a few shifted within the group.

Weston and Darien remained No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Weston increased from $213,423 to $219,868 during the five-year period. Darien rose from $200,724 to $208,848.

New Canaan fell from third to fifth while Westport rose from fifth to third.

However, New Canaan went from $167,037 to $174,677.

Westport moved from $152,586 to $181,360.

Wilton held at No. 4 and increased from $161,906 to $180,313.

The U.S. median household income in 2017 was $60,336, which is 27 percent of the median in Weston.

Darien has Metro-North service to New York City and Fairfield University economics professor Mark LeClair opined that Westonians don’t mind the trip to the Westport station as that usually involves a 10-minute drive on average.

Commuting both within and outside the county can still be onerous. According to the Census Bureau, 6.3 percent of Fairfield County commuters spend at least 90 minutes in each direction getting to and from work every day, as opposed to the national average of 2.8 percent, while 9.4 percent of county-based commuters take between 60 and 90 minutes to get to work, compared with the national average of 6.3 percent.

The average commute time nationwide is about 26 minutes while for Fairfield County workers it is 30.4 minutes.

Most residents view the state’s highways as overly congested, in need of repairs or both. “We always hear how our roads are bad,” said state Sen. Tony Hwang, a Republican who represents parts of Fairfield, Westport, Weston, Easton and Newtown and sits on the state Transportation Committee. “But our roads have always been bad.”

While improvements to the roads are seemingly always in the works, so are improvements to the state’s rail service. But the latter may be closer to becoming a reality in the short-term.

Gov. Ned Lamont has endorsed the long-debated 30/30/30 plan, which would cut train commute times to 30 minutes from Hartford to New Haven, 30 minutes from New Haven to Stamford and 30 minutes from Stamford to Manhattan.

“You’re seeing growth in places close to New York like Fairfield County, but not New Haven and Litchfield County,” McGee said, “and it’s for the same reason you’re seeing growth in Nassau County (on Long Island) but not Suffolk County.

“West of the Hudson River is where you used to see growth,” McGee added, “but now it’s east of the Hudson.”

“We have an image of ourselves as being a highly taxed state,” LeClair said. “But compared to New York City and surrounding counties, we look like a bargain.”

ATTOM Data Solutions reported that during 2017, among 1,414 U.S. counties with at least 10,000 single-family homes, those with the highest average property taxes on single-family homes were all in the greater New York metro area, led by Westchester County at $17,179. For Fairfield County the average was $10,612.

LeClair, however, believes the county’s surge is a medium-term phenomenon.

“It all depends on whether New York City continues to grow,” he said. “We’re benefiting over New York and Westchester County, but in the longer term there’s the potential for exhausting ourselves. Once New York adjusts to the idea of driving all of its people out and decides to do something about it, then it will boomerang on us.”

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