While Connecticut added jobs in October, the state’s unemployment rate rose marginally to 9.0 percent as residents re-entered a labor market that remains shaky.
The increase of a tenth of a percent from September brought the unemployment rate back to its August level, the highest the state has seen since March 2011 when it stood at 9.1 percent. Though the rate rose, the addition of roughly 1,200 jobs in October indicates that more people are entering the labor market — a change politicians and experts said is a sign for cautious optimism.
“If these conflicting results tell any single story,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a press release last week, “it’s that more people are attempting to enter the workforce because conditions are beginning to improve.”
State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, meanwhile, attributed some of the improvement to a bipartisan jobs bill passed in Connecticut in October 2011 that, among other provisions, provided subsidies to small businesses for a portion of newly hired workers’ salaries in their first six months on the job.
“We’ve taken some measures over time that will really stimulate hiring in Connecticut,” Looney said.
These improved conditions mirror a positive national trend in which unemployment has gradually declined — dropping below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009 in September — while October saw the consumer confidence index rise 3 percent and housing prices experience their biggest monthly jump since August 2005.
Nevertheless, Connecticut residents searching for jobs still face a tough labor market, which has largely been blamed on a lethargic national economy, the European debt crisis and uncertainty over federal regulation and budget issues.
“We are battling strong headwinds, both at the national level and in Europe,” Malloy said. “The more we learn about the Great Recession, the more we realize how long it’s going to take to get us out of it.”
Connecticut’s unemployment rate stands a full point higher than the national rate, which increased from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent in October. This is a reversal from a year ago when Connecticut’s unemployment rate hovered at 8.5 percent, four-tenths of a point lower than the national average.
Ed Deak, an economics professor at Fairfield University, told the Hartford Courant last week that a number of factors have contributed to the difference between the state and national unemployment rate, including United Technologies Corp.’s decision to move manufacturing jobs out of the state, the decline in defense work due to the slowing of Pentagon spending and banks’ uncertainty in the face of financial reform regulation.
Some have also pointed to Hurricane Sandy as at least part of the cause for the marginal growth in the unemployment rate. The storm wrecked havoc on Connecticut’s coastline when it made landfall on Oct. 29.
“I think there are probably a number of businesses that wound up closing for a number of days and in some cases may have laid off employees,” Looney said. “There is a significant impact of that storm that will take a while to truly quantify.”
Meanwhile, the federal budget fight threatens to derail the national recovery and further hamper Connecticut’s efforts to lower the unemployment rate.
Negotiations to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” which would result in automatic tax increases and spending cuts in 2013, are currently under way in Washington. Failure to reach a compromise could lead to another recession, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“If [the fiscal cliff] were to go into effect, that would have a severe impact on the state,” Looney said. “Among the things that would be reduced in that federal budget provision would be various forms of aid to states that would compound our problem at the state level.”
Looney said that when the state legislature next meets in January, it is likely to look to further stimulus measures intended to grow Connecticut’s labor market.
Connecticut’s Republican leadership could not be reached for comment.
The state’s unemployment rate peaked at 9.4 percent in August 2010, remaining at that level until January 2011.