Opinion: ‘I feel so lucky to call Stamford my home’ but data shows a lack of equity and opportunity

Emily Tang-Lee

Emily Tang-Lee

Contributed photo

I grew up in Brooklyn in a scrappy refugee family, one that didn’t have much money but that valued education. My experience is one I see reflected in the Stamford community, in families across the city.

My mom worked as an admin at a large company and my dad was a taxi driver. We were a family eligible for free lunch. My parents tried to keep worries about money to themselves, but even in elementary school I knew that to ask for a school trip was to ask my parents to pay for something we might not be able to afford. Mom and dad’s engagement with teachers was through report cards and parent-teacher conferences. No one told them to join a parent-teacher organization and, besides, they didn’t have time or energy to spare. My parents’ English was good enough but not their first language and as I got older, I often found myself at the computer, inputting data on my parents’ behalf.

Through my parents’ encouragement and my own hard work, I forged a path to higher education, going through New York City’s specialized public schools, then to the Top 25 liberal arts college Hamilton, and finally to Johns Hopkins for my master’s degree.

My parents are wonderful parents who set me and my brother up for success, despite their income. But it took an inordinate amount of effort to get us to where we are today, and I wonder what would have happened to us if we didn’t have the good fortune of having my parents, who were at least armed with information they could use to guide us on our education journey. What happens to the other children, who are equally bright?

This is where a quality education, nonprofit organizations and local government come in.

I feel so lucky to call Stamford my home. There is a vibrant community of do-gooders, philanthropists, and political activists here, all working toward a brighter future for our neighbors. But even as I’m buoyed by optimism, the data shows a lack of equity and opportunity. If we are to be responsible to our neighbors, we ought to address these issues.

A recent report by DataHaven, a Connecticut-based nonprofit that empowers people to create thriving communities through data, points to a few indicators of well-being that should sound the alarm bells for us all.

This is what the report found for Stamford:

 43 percent of all households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their total income on housing costs. After keeping a roof over your head and food on the table, this leaves little else, or nothing at all, for low-income families to invest in their futures.

 There is a gulf in median household income between groups. While median household income for white households is $124,000, for Black families in Stamford it’s less than half that — $49,000. Similarly, the median household income of a Latino household is $55,000. Racial disparities in employment, pay and education are the through line.

In a high-cost area such as our own, we must find ways to grow the earning potential of our neighbors through “tried and true” solutions such as workforce development, wage growth, and high-quality public education, while keeping our hearts and minds open to innovative solutions offered through public-private partnerships, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders.

 Nearly 1 in 5 people age 5 and older is “linguistically isolated,” meaning they speak English less than “very well,” making it more challenging to take advantage of essential services such as health care, social services or school. With limited access to even basic needs, the path to success narrows.

It is my hope that this data will drive us to action — to volunteer or contribute to your neighborhood association or local nonprofits, to support your candidate of choice in local elections, or simply to share this article for greater awareness. Through collective action we can ensure a thriving community that offers equitable opportunity for all.

Emily Tang-Lee serves on the board of directors of Inspirica , a Stamford-based nonprofit organization serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. She is married to Ben Lee , a member of Stamford’s Board of Representatives running for the Board of Education, and mother of two children.