Report highlights youth joblessness

Although Connecticut has experienced mild job recovery since the onset of the economic downturn in 2008, the recession continues to hinder the state’s job-seeking youth from finding employment, according to a report released by Connecticut Voices for Children last week.

The report found that Connecticut job-seekers ages 16 to 24 are experiencing rates of unemployment substantially higher than the national average, and the state’s youth joblessness is particularly concentrated within minority communities. Connecticut workers between the ages of 16 and 24 had an unemployment rate of 17.1 percent in 2012, 0.9 percent higher than the nationwide average and a 71 percent increase from the state’s youth unemployment levels in 2007.

According to the report, young people who cannot find jobs tend to have more difficulty finding future employment, are more likely to earn less money over the course of their lives and are more likely to cost taxpayers by relying on government services.

“We know that we can invest all we want in education, but if children are living in homes that are unsafe and communities that are unsafe, then education won’t be enough,” said Edie Joseph ’12, one of the co-authors of the report.

In addition to highlighting heightened unemployment, the report also noted that the jobs Connecticut citizens are finding generally pay lower wages than before the recession. Only earners in the 80th and 90th percentiles saw their wages grow between 2007 and 2012.

To solve issues of youth unemployment and wage stagnation, the report recommended that Connecticut fully fund universal early childhood education and public schools and make public higher education more accessible in order to create a flexible, skilled workforce. It also recommended supporting social services by indexing the minimum wage to inflation and increasing the earned income tax credit.

Many of the jobs that Connecticut has recovered in the past few years have been in low-paying sectors such as retail and food service instead of higher paying sectors such as manufacturing and local education. According to the report, for each job lost in the finance and insurance sector, Connecticut added two and a half jobs to accommodation and food services — resulting in a net loss of $2,075 of average weekly wages for the state.

Anthony Rescigno, the president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said that although many manufacturing jobs still exist in New Haven, their nature has changed, requiring more specialization. He added that the New Haven Manufacturers Association has been informally visiting high schools to get students interested in New Haven’s historic industry.

“Today’s manufacturing is more upscale, technical and requires more computer skills,” Rescigno said. “That’s part of the education process, to let people know it’s not a dirty business any more.”

Tyisha Walker, Ward 23 Alderwoman and vice-chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Youth Services Committee, said that as a result of the recession, older, more experienced workers laid off from their jobs moved to low-skill industries, displacing the young people who usually worked in those sectors. She added that many of the city’s available high-wage jobs are in the biotechnology sector, a field which requires a high degree of training.

Walker pointed to New Haven Works — a collaboration between the city, unions and employers to connect residents with local employers — as an example of the city’s efforts to alleviate youth unemployment. She stressed that initiatives such as New Haven Works would be ineffective without jobs to which the program could connect residents.

“New Haven Works is not a job, it’s an entity that places you in a job,” Walker said. “We need to push employers to give young people a shot.”

According to the report, 44.4 percent of New Haven’s 16 to 19-year-olds are unemployed.

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