Jessica Burum was finishing up her bachelor's degree in business management from New England Tech when her job plans took a wrong turn. She had an internship in July, and then was paid under the table by that employer, but the company went out of business in August.
Because Burum, 22, had not worked enough to qualify for unemployment benefits, she had to rely on her boyfriend as she searched for work throughout the fall.
Now she's happily part of the wave of successful job-seekers who pushed Connecticut's unemployment rate to 8.2 percent in December from 8.4 percent the month before. A.R. Mazzotta, a local temporary and placement agency, found her resume online, and, in late December, Mazzotta placed her as an administrative assistant at ServPro, a company that cleans up properties after fire and water damage.
As she started her $12-an-hour temporary job, she was one face behind a 4,700-person decline of Connecticut's jobless rolls last month, reported Monday by the state Department of Labor. It was the fifth month of improving unemployment, which had stubbornly stayed between 9 percent and 9.2 percent from December 2009 to August 2011.
Unemployment has not been this low in Connecticut since May 2009.
Burum, who lives in Norwich, laughed with relief when she said how much better she feels to be working -- especially knowing that student loan payments will begin in March. She said she doesn't even want to know how much they will be each month.
The drop in unemployment is good news, but Burum was cautious, too, saying, "I wish there was more opportunity, but there's really not."
That's the question surrounding Connecticut's economy as the tally from 2011 comes into focus: The picture is brighter, but how much better is it, really?
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we're seeing a stronger recovery," said Fairfield University's Ed Deak, who had been pessimistic about Connecticut's chances for economic growth when he made a forecast for the New England Economic Partnership in November. He predicted then that the state's employers would add 10,400 jobs in 2011, but that there would be a net loss of 6,400 jobs in 2012.
The report Monday that showed unemployment dropping also described very tepid job growth, with just 9,000 jobs added during the year, in a preliminary total based on a survey of employers. Figures for December, which are also subject to revisions, showed that the number of jobs was largely unchanged -- just 600 additional jobs on a base of 1.6 million.
The job totals are due for revisions in early March, and early tallies are especially dicey in times of recovery, because workplace surveys are notoriously inaccurate. Last March, for example, the revised totals showed that twice as many jobs were added in the state in 2010 as had been reported month by month through the year.
But after several months of declines, it's clear that the unemployment rate is heading down. Deak had expected Connecticut's unemployment rate to stay near 9 percent through 2013.
"I'm hoping I'm wrong," he said. "I hope everybody says: 'Deak is Dr. Doom.' "
The most encouraging thing about the drop in unemployment is that it's not a result of people giving up looking for work. The labor force -- the total number of people working and actively looking for work -- has grown by more than 20,000 people since August, or slightly more than 1 percent, even as the number of people out of work but actively looking has fallen by several thousand, to 154,500.
Soukie Keobapha, 36, looked for work from October 2009 through September 2011, after getting laid off as a payroll specialist with Citigroup in Hartford. She said she had few callbacks, had to move in with her mother and ultimately moved in with a friend who let her stay rent-free.
Keobapha had a friend who got placed through Accountemps, and decided she should try that agency. Two months later, she got a payroll specialist temp job, and Jan. 1, the business process outsourcer made her a regular employee, giving her a raise and benefits.
At $20 an hour, she's making 10 percent more than she made at Citigroup.
"Now I actually have my own place" in New Britain, she said. "So things are looking brighter now. It makes you a lot happier knowing you have a job."
But even with the good news, unemployment is still far above a healthy level. Three years ago, unemployment in Connecticut was 6.7 percent. Four years ago, it was 4.9 percent.
Robert Rohrig has been looking for work for 11 months, since he lost his senior account manager job at a mailing company when a major client was lost. Rohrig, 61, of New Britain, has worked in printing and mailing industries his entire career.
"They're struggling, there's a lot of contraction going on, due to a lot of movement of printing to the Internet," he said, as well as companies offering to do contract printing for cheaper through the Internet. More companies can do printing in-house on high-quality copiers and laser printers, he said.
Because of that, and his age, he doesn't find the drop in unemployment particularly encouraging.
"There are more manufacturing jobs," he said. "I've seen a lot of jobs advertised I'm just not qualified for; manufacturing, project manager, IT."
Rohrig did get federally funded training in lean practices and project management earlier this year.
Of the drop, he said: "All that does is make me more concerned the federal government won't extend unemployment because they think things are getting better."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at