The state's unemployment ticked down to 8 percent for the first time in nearly three years, but the job picture for 2010 and 2011 came out looking worse than earlier reported after the state issued revised numbers Monday.
Employers added a whopping 7,100 jobs in January, the state Department of Labor said, issuing a preliminary figure that's certain to be revised. The winter's good weather played a role in the gains, as construction jobs surged by 3,100, or 6.3 percent, with worksites staying active.
The report for January gives Connecticut a year-over-year total of 11,900 additional jobs, a tepid total that only partly explains how unemployment tumbled from 9.3 percent to 8 percent in those same 12 months. Part of the reason for the decline in jobless rolls is that about 5,000 fewer people were out pounding on the doors of employers.
Patricia Stanley Martinez of Canton was one of those door-pounders after moving back to her home state last August from Florida, where she and her husband lived for two years. The facilities management professional landed a few offers, and started a job in January managing the Farmington office of Servicemaster Merry Maids, where she is meeting her goal of traveling less.
"A job search is never easy, but there were probably a lot more job opportunities here than when I left my job here and moved to Florida," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised."
January's gains, strong even if they are ultimately cut in half, more than made up for a downward revision for 2011, which showed that the state gained 7,800 jobs rather than the 9,000 that had been reported in preliminary data. Even worse, the state's gains of 2010 were revised Monday from 13,600 to 9,600.
And the unemployment rate didn't peak in early 2010 at 9.2 percent and stay at about 9.1 percent well into 2011, as was reported. Rather, it peaked in August 2010 at 9.4 percent, and stayed there through the end of that year. That matched a post-World-War II record set in 1976.
Then, once it started falling, the jobless rate declined throughout 2011. Among the revisions Monday was a cut in the December unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, to 8.1 percent.
Revisions are done every March for the previous two years, based on actual payroll data. The monthly job total reports are based on a survey of 5,000 workplaces, and are considered preliminary, as are the monthly unemployment levels, which are based on a survey of households.
The report for January leaves Connecticut with 1,630,600 jobs, and that means the economy has recovered less than a third of the 117,500 jobs lost in the recession (also a slightly revised number). By contrast, the U.S. economy has recovered 39 percent of the jobs lost nationally, after Friday's report for February showing a gain of 227,000 positions.
The Connecticut Department of Labor will issue its report for February later this month.
"Many firms have found an alternative to hiring," said Donald Klepper-Smith of DataCore Partners, an economic adviser to Farmington Bank, explaining the slow recovery.
Companies are letting technology work harder, he said. "That technology, at ridiculously low interest rates, looks incredibly attractive."
A look at the results of job sectors in the 12 months through January shows many factors at work. Health care, the main driver since the recession ended nearly three years ago, added 6,200 positions, a 2.5 percent gain; transportation, warehousing and utilities gained 2,300, or 4.7 percent; and leisure and hospitality pushed ahead with 3,800 added jobs, or 2.8 percent.
Two key sectors showed declines over the past year: finance and insurance, down 2,900, or 2.5 percent, and government, down 4,400, or 1.8 percent. The state's 236,000 government jobs include those at the Native American casinos, which have a combined total of about 18,000 jobs.
All of this gives us no clear direction for 2012, a year that is forecast to see another lukewarm increase in jobs. "We hope we're wrong," said Andy Condon, director of research for the state Department of Labor.
It's a good start to the year, Klepper-Smith said, but it remains to be seen whether the winter's gains will subside.
Martinez, the returned Connecticut resident who found a good job, is well aware that not everyone can expect the same results.
"I talk to a lot of people that have been out of work for a year or two years. I think it is really dependent on your field," she said. "It all depends on where you live, too."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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