State unemployment down slightly

GraphCTUnemployment
Photo by Michelle Hackman.

Connecticut’s economy added 2,000 jobs in September, lowering the state’s unemployment rate to 8.9 percent.

After the unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent in June to a high of 9.0 percent in August, the September rate has dropped again, according to state-by-state jobs numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This lower figure reflects a national trend — the national rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 7.8 percent in September, the first time that figure has dipped below 8 percent in 43 months.

In Connecticut, education and health services led the way in job growth, creating 2,400 jobs in September, followed by construction jobs, which grew by 600 this month. In contrast, government payrolls declined by 900 jobs, and professional and business services lost 600. Individuals who are self-employed are not calculated in the employment figures.

“We’ve learned over the past few months that the economic crash of 2008 was worse than anyone realized, which is why it’s taking us longer to climb out of the hole than any of us would like,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a Thursday statement on the jobs numbers. “But it’s also important to remember that we’re making some progress.”

Still, experts are raising concerns about the way in which the state’s unemployment rate is calculated. Ken Couch, a labor economist at the University of Connecticut, said the sample size of the survey used to determine the rate is too small.

The national survey of 60,000 households is large enough to calculate a national unemployment rate reflective of the nation’s population, but the sample size in Connecticut — which Couch estimates to be closer to 1,000 households — is not adequately representative of the state’s population, he said.

As a result, economists predict that the numbers seen in the last year show exaggerated highs and lows. In fact, a second household-based survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics every quarter revealed that the monthly household survey underestimates the employed population of Connecticut: The monthly survey estimates 10,000 people fewer than the actual number. Couch said that, when these 10,000 additional people are used to calculate the unemployment rate, it falls within the range of 8.1 to 8.3 percent — more in line with national figures.

In his Thursday statement, Malloy expressed skepticism that the Bureau’s last two reports accurately reflected the state of the Connecticut economy. While the unemployment rate rose, he said, the number of people filing new jobless claims with the Department of Labor fell 23 in a month, from 4,802 per week in July to 4,779 per week in August.

“Every month, whether it’s at the national or state level, we look to the unemployment numbers as an indicator of our overall recovery,” he said. “For the last two months, that data has been questionable at best.”

Malloy is not the only governor to have criticized the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data gathering strategy. In the last few months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey have both pointed to inconsistencies across surveys as an indication that their states’ rates are artificially high.

Connecticut was one of 41 states to report declining unemployment rates in September.

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