Connecticut Job Growth Stalls, According To New State Labor Reports
By MARA LEE
May 17, 2012
The state Department of Labor's latest snapshot of Connecticut's economy is blurry.
Some of the data released Thursday show the state treading water, with no net job creation in the past year. Employers across the state cut 4,100 more jobs in April than they added, the second straight month of shrinking opportunities.
In addition, unemployment checks for 12,000 people ended in the past two months, as the length of time people may collect fell from 99 weeks to 73 weeks. Officials estimated that 100,000 people will reach the end of eligibility by the end of the year, but only 25,000 will find jobs.
Other data in the reports seem brighter. The number of people laid off in April was 7 percent lower than a year ago. Although 147,100 people are still looking for work, their numbers are 25,300 lower than they were a year ago. The unemployment rate in April 2011 was 9 percent it was 7.7 percent last month.
The mixed picture was reflected in The Courant's conversations with job hunters in Hartford. Their stories show how difficult it can be to pin down the way people are responding to the poor job market, and how much hope there is for improvement.
Paul Beckett Sr., 43, was laid off from a $19-an-hour job as an electrician in 2009, and searched for work for a year without a single interview.
"I couldn't find work in my field, everything had kind of crashed," he said. "I wanted to get into another field where I would have a better chance of finding employment."
In 2010, he enrolled in a program to become a licensed practical nurse, and continued to collect unemployment, which supplemented his wife's dental assistant salary, which was supporting his three children still at home in Hartford. His benefits ran out a year ago.
Beckett is one of those unemployed who disappeared last year because he was a full-time student, he no longer counted. But his is a good-news story: He's lining up interviews now at area nursing homes after graduating in May. He can expect to make $24 to $26 an hour.
"I definitely made the right decision," he said, and he's confident that getting an offer will be easy because he's getting this much interest before he has passed the state board exams.
Beckett's 22-year-old son, Paul Jr., has been unemployed for seven months since quitting a minimum-wage job sorting mail.
The younger Beckett said he thought about waiting until he found another job before quitting, "but I didn't think it was going to be this hard. I was planning on going back to school and then finding a part-time job."
Previously, he dropped out of an electrician training program at Lincoln Tech and owes $560 a month in loans. That debt load has discouraged him from returning to school.
His father said his son wasn't ready to give school his all.
"We sat down and talked about it for quite a while," Paul Beckett Sr. said, remembering that he told his son: "You have to take this seriously, it's a commitment, you're going to owe the government money."
The younger Beckett has been living with his parents and doing yard work to make enough money to put gas in his car. He does not collect unemployment. Now he's considering enlisting in the Navy or Air Force after coming up empty when applying for jobs in warehouses, as a dishwasher, and at McDonald's.
Economist Nick Perna, who advises Webster Bank and lectures at Yale, said that the job creation record so far this year, if it continued, would mean the state's job base would grow by 15,000 by the end of the year not great, but not terrible.
But he said it's hard to know what will happen. Last year, employers added jobs quickly in the early part of the year, and then job creation sputtered.
Perna said he thinks that business confidence is stronger now than it was a year ago, and business owners are telling him that their sales are stronger now.
But still, he asked: "Is this déjà vu all over again?"
And he said, "I have no idea what the job numbers mean. It's bouncing all over the place."
Another thing complicating matters is employers who pay workers under the table to avoid unemployment insurance and Social Security contributions, or to accommodate workers who want to continue collecting unemployment checks. Such practices are illegal.
Kynosha Drayton, 40, of Hartford, found herself in that shadow world in 2010, not long after she landed her first job as an insulation installer. She had gone through Hartford's Job Funnel, a federally funded training program for the construction trades.
Drayton was making $14.70 an hour, but a few weeks after she was hired her boss began paying her in cash, she said. When she was laid off in April 2010, she began receiving only $65 a week in unemployment compensation because most of her work history was undocumented.
Drayton worked as a temp at a warehouse in December 2011 for minimum wage, but for most of the 99 weeks that she collected her checks, she did not make a focused effort to find work. Instead, she took care of her elderly grandmother, who she lives with, worked odd jobs, and for 12 weeks, she was in a full-time lead and asbestos abatement training program.
On Thursday, she applied for 30 jobs, but she's unqualified for some of them, such as machinist postings.
"Hopefully, one of them will call," she said.
Drayton was at the Hartford one-stop career center Thursday, but 60 percent of people whose unemployment benefits have ended have never gone to the state job centers.
The state would like to get more of them to come in so they can learn about training opportunities and get connected with employers who are looking to hire the long-term unemployed.
Small businesses that hire low-income unemployed people who live in high-unemployment cities can get the state to pay the new hires' salaries for the first two months up to $20 an hour and receive partial subsidies for another four months. Larger businesses that hire long-unemployed workers can receive tax credits.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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