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Jobless Rate Falls As State Gains 3,000 Jobs In April

By MARA LEE

May 21, 2010

When Peggy Quinn found herself among hundreds of employees terminated at The Hartford in September, the financial analyst was "absolutely devastated."

She had started at the company as a secretary in 1998 with a high school education, after more than a dozen years staying home with her children. While working full-time, she earned a bachelor's degree and nearly finished her MBA before getting laid off.

"I absolutely intended to retire from the company," said Quinn, who's 51.

Instead, she entered a lifeless job market, and had to dip into her retirement to supplement the unemployment checks that were her sole support.

Quinn is one of thousands of state residents whose careers have been rejuvenated this spring, as the recovery starts to take hold. Connecticut employers added 3,000 jobs in April and the unemployment rate fell to 9 percent from 9.2 percent, the state Department of Labor said Thursday.

On Monday, she started a new job at ING in Windsor, as a financial analyst, with a small raise from her last salary.

"I feel the company has given me my life back, has given me a future," she said. "I feel recharged."

From January through April, the state's economy created nearly 9,000 jobs, exceeding expectations of a much slower recovery.

The April job growth followed 2,500 jobs in March (revised from a previously reported 3,000 jobs) and is the fourth month that the state's private and public employers added more jobs than they cut.

But even though the economy has stepped back from the brink a year ago, the number of job losses was 21 percent higher there's still a long way to go before unemployment is down to acceptable levels.

"I don't think there's any way we can get down to 5 percent unemployment in Connecticut in two years," said economist Nick Perna of Ridgefield, who lectures at Yale and consults for Webster Bank.

He said the pace of job growth is a pleasant surprise. Earlier this year, he believed a large gain in January would be an oddity in 2010.

Despite the gains in March and April, Perna still expects "a recovery of moderate proportions." Similarly, the New England Economic Project on Thursday forecast a modest recovery for Connecticut and New England, with Connecticut taking more than five years to recover the 100,000-plus jobs it lost in the recession. (Story on page A8.)

The pace of improvement is muddied by the role of the Census. Almost 1,400 of the 3,000 jobs added in April are these well-paying, but short-term, Census-taker positions.

Staffing agency and contract work is fast-growing, the Labor Department said. At ING's Windsor office, there are almost 350 contractors working alongside 1,700 employees. The company cut about 75 workers in January 2009.

ING Spokesman Phil Margolis said there are 44 job openings in Connecticut, including customer service positions, actuaries and finance jobs. Quinn's job was a new position, rather than filling a vacancy.

Temp agency jobs add to the state's total, but can be a frustrating merry-go-round for workers when they don't lead to permanent offers.

Barbara Brown, 51, attended orientation at yet another temporary agency Thursday afternoon. The Hartford resident has had a string of short-term jobs in warehouses, on an assembly line and as a janitor since she was laid off in July 2007 from a hospital cafeteria job she held for 12 years.

Since February, it's been slow. At the restaurant interview she had Wednesday, she was told they didn't have anything right now, but they'd be in touch.

"I feel really bad, really frustrated, because I always work," Brown said. "I don't like sitting around. It's hard out here."

More promising is the continuing strength in manufacturing, which added 800 jobs in April, after growing by 600 jobs in March and 800 jobs in February.

George Pich started a job Monday at a small factory in Oxford that makes train maintenance lifts and large turntables for rotating stages or even restaurants. Pich, 60, worked as an engineer at a Bic pen factory in Milford for 19 years until it moved to Mexico in 2007. He started a contract job at medical manufacturer Covidien the next week, and the eventually converted into a regular position.

Pich moved from North Haven's Covidien to Christ Water Technology in New Britain, but was laid off in December 2009 after he'd been there a year, as orders dried up.

Pich, who lives in Wallingford, found his new job at Macton Corporation through a recruiter at Reitman Personnel. He got a raise from his previous job, but is still making 10 percent less than he made three years ago at Bic.

"I'm happy where I am now, and very encouraged about the future," he said. "Everything seems to be picking up."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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