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Recession Has Kept Jobs, Income Flat In Connecticut


October 25, 2012

The recession's stubborn gravity has kept Connecticut's economy mired for the past several years as incomes stayed flat and jobs remained elusive.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released figures for the three years ending in 2011 that show the state's workers struggling to keep their heads up, dealing with rising bills and stagnant paychecks. The picture has brightened a bit in the past year, but the gloom created by the financial collapse of 2008 remains deep.

"In this recession, we went down and haven't been able to pick ourselves up," economist and West Hartford Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said.

Data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows per capita income statewide rose by only $43 from 2007-09 to 2009-11 from $36,570 to $36,613.

At the same time, the number of state residents on food stamps leaped from about 90,000 from 2007-09 to slightly more than 133,000 from 2009-11.

The number of food stamp recipients rose for several reasons. The poor economy has contributed, but changes in income eligibility rules and a statewide outreach effort to make people aware of their eligibility also were factors.

The elderly poor have been hit hardest, said Beth Stafford, CEO of Manchester Area Conference of Churches Charities. Older people who have worked all their lives are reluctant enough to walk into the group's food pantry, Stafford said. They have to be convinced that food stamps "are not just a handout," that the program works and relieves some stress from soup kitchens and pantries, she said.

The bleakest figures emerge when the data is filtered by job sectors. Construction jobs statewide fell by about 12 percent from 2007-09 to 2009-11. Manufacturing lost about 15,000 jobs in the same period.

The finance, insurance and real estate sector lost about 7,300 jobs, including about 3,000 jobs in Hartford County. Jobs in the information fields, which include computer technology, fell statewide, from 45,811 to 42,113. The drop affected every county except Tolland County, where the number of information-related jobs increased slightly.

One important factor to keep in mind, however, is that the middle year of the Census Bureau's latest three-year data field was 2010 a year when the state was still being deeply hurt by the recession, Van Winkle said. Since then, there has been modest growth "nothing to dance about, but we've come back somewhat," he added.

Housing permits, a leading economic indicator, are beginning to rise, and the number of layoffs has dropped. Also, the health care jobs market, driven by an aging population, has been "a bit recession proof," Van Winkle said. Jobs in education also have been relatively healthy as more people unable to find work in their chosen fields seek instruction and skills in other areas.

The persistent burden on the state economy, however, is the overall jobs market, which Van Winkle said has not strengthened "at any rate we would hope to see."

Another stubborn statistic is the income gap between men and women. Median income for men statewide from 2009-11 was $61,556, compared with $46,677 for women. The divide was widest in Fairfield County, where the median income for men was $72,540, compared with $51,120 for women.

The largest jump in food stamps was in Fairfield County, where there was a 33 percent increase in food stamps in the three-year period from 2007-2009 to the 2008-2010 figures released Thursday.

As recently as five years ago, about 60 percent of those eligible for food assistance were getting it, said Gloria McAdam, president and CEO of Foodshare, a Greater Hartford food bank. Today, that number is about 76 percent.

Currently, a household with four people is eligible for food stamps if gross monthly income does not exceed $3,400. At that income level, each person receives $14 a month in assistance, McAdam said.

While more people are getting food stamps, there also has been a 30 percent increase in the past two years in the number of residents who rely on soup kitchens and food pantries, McAdam said. Donations to Foodshare have not kept pace with need, she said.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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