With long-term headwinds, state unemployment stagnates

Unemployment

Despite a marginal fall in the unemployment rate, Connecticut’s labor market remained lethargic in February.

Jobs data, released last week by the Department of Labor, put last month’s unemployment rate at 8 percent, a tenth of a point lower than January’s rate. But the decrease was accompanied by a payroll job loss of 5,700 and the 28th straight month of contraction in the labor force, which shrunk by 7,600. Collectively, the numbers put Connecticut’s unemployment rate three-tenths of a point higher than the national average, which at 7.7 percent is at its lowest since December 2008.

“The data do reflect what is going on in the economy. We have a state that is not growing as rapidly as some of the other states in the country,” said Patrick Flaherty, an economist in the state’s Department of Labor. “There is some real concern that we came out of the recession pretty well, but over the past year we’ve kind of lost some momentum and are now growing but at maybe half the rate that the rest of the country is growing.”

The report suggested that only two of the state’s 10 economic “supersectors,” government and manufacturing, registered gains last month, adding 900 and 400 jobs, respectively. The gains in government were at the local and federal levels, while durable goods led manufacturing’s upward movement.

In an email to the News, Juliet Manalan, a press secretary for Gov. Dannel Malloy, shifted focus from February’s job losses to recently revised employment figures that suggest Connecticut added 10,000 private sector jobs in 2012. Manalan said that the governor’s office considers last year’s revised numbers superior indicators of the economy’s health than month-to-month data.

Speculation on behalf of the Labor Department suggested that February’s blizzard, which ravaged the Connecticut coastline shortly before the start of the month, may have had a significant impact on businesses, forcing closures and adversely affecting employment.

“Though our data can’t point at any specific regions or industry sectors that would confirm the winter storm hampered job growth in February, that result seems likely,” said Andy Condon, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Research, in a statement last week.

Of the state’s six Labor Market Areas, a mere two posted job gains: Danbury and Norwich-New London. The broader New Haven area, which includes 22 towns such as Wallingford, Branford and Chester, lost 1,700 jobs.

Unemployment in New Haven, however, dropped four-tenths of a point, although at 12.1 percent, the rate is still elevated.

“It goes without saying that the city’s unemployment rate remains unacceptably high,” said Mike Piscitelli, a deputy economic development administrator for the city.

City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti said Monday that Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s School Change program, in addition to recent efforts to lure biotechnology firms to the city, will generate high-paying jobs in the long-run.

In the short-run, however, an under-educated workforce and lack of infrastructure continue to challenge the city’s job creation efforts, Piscitelli said.

Attempting to create employment for residents whose skills do not allow them to work for the high-tech firms that have become a centerpiece of the city’s economic plans, the Board of Aldermen established New Haven Works late last year. The project, which is in the midst of a pilot program with Yale, seeks to provide access to job training to workers who otherwise would not be competitive in the labor market.

“One of the really exciting things about New Haven Works is to address head on this issue of better connecting residents to workforce opportunities here in the city itself,” Piscitelli said.

According to the report, Connecticut has recovered 40.1 percent, or 48,600 of the 121,200 jobs lost during the March 2008 through February 2010 downturn.

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