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State's Economy Adds 5,200 Jobs In May, But 4,900 are from Census

Mara Lee

June 17, 2010

Case workers helping Tabitha Frank tell her the jobs are out there. She just needs to find them.

But Connecticut is not creating enough jobs for the people who need them, the more than 169,000 unemployed statewide. Though the state added 5,200 jobs in May, temporary Census jobs accounted for about 4,900.

Frank, 20, has been unemployed since July 2008, when the part-time administrative job she had for a promotions company in rural Georgia was eliminated. She had just graduated from high school in Georgia that May.

About 46 percent of job seekers have been out of work for more than six months, the highest in 62 years of keeping records.

"I was looking at grocery stores. I was looking for office work," Frank said. "Just about anything I could apply for, I was applying for."

Frank, who moved to Hartford, where her aunt lived, in early 2009 in hopes that the bigger city would have more opportunities, has received training through the Job Corps and Capital Community College in Hartford, earning a certified nursing assistant's license in November.

"People always going to get old and need somebody to look after them," she said. "I thought that was a good field to get into."

But her applications to both health care placement agencies and to nursing homes have not brought any work in seven months. Neither have her applications for fast food cashier, waitress or janitor.

"How am I going to get experience if nobody gonna hire me?" she asked.

Deborah Chernoff, a spokeswoman for the union that represents nursing home workers, said nurse's aides had been in high demand until about two years ago, when several years of flat Medicaid reimbursements forced nursing homes to trim budgets.

"They're not hiring," she said. "They're cutting a lot of people's hours."

Frank, who doesn't qualify for unemployment benefits, spent a few months in the YWCA's homeless shelter before moving to one of the agency's apartments. But she has fallen behind on rent. She expects she'll need to move in with her aunt if things don't turn around soon.

More people may be moving in with relatives soon if the hiring pace doesn't pick up, because thousands of Connecticut residents have been unemployed for about two years. In the past month, 14,266 people exhausted their unemployment benefits, and state Department of Labor officials expect another 600 every week to fall off the rolls.

There's not only a high personal cost for workers who are forced to borrow from relatives, or move in with them but their lack of buying power also undermines the economy, because 70 percent of the country's growth is supported by consumer spending.

Connecticut reflected the national pattern in May: 431,000 jobs were added nationwide, but the private sector accounted for just 41,000 and Census hires 411,000.

The state's unemployment rate fell from 9 percent to 8.9 percent.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and one of her economic advisers put a positive spin on the jobs report. Census jobs are "short term, but better to be short term than no term," said economist Ed Deak of Fairfield University.

He said the income from Census jobs would allow people who had been unemployed to spend more, which could create demand for more goods and services.

But Bonnie Rosenberg, a New Haven resident who hasn't had full-time work since October 2008, said the Census work is too on-and-off to allow for discretionary spending.

"I was happy to have it and it certainly helped," she said.

Rosenberg, who doesn't receive unemployment benefits, worked for the Census for six weeks last year, got another week and a half of work in March and April and expects to be called back in August. She uses that $880 a week to supplement intermittent free-lance work as an archivist. She has also made a little money giving computer lessons to elderly neighbors. Before she worked in TV production and image archival research, she had been a chemist.

Rosenberg, who shares an apartment with her partner in New Haven, has earned enough to cover her share of the rent and pay car insurance, but said that since the small company she worked for in marketing closed, "I haven't bought anything."

In 2010, she has had only one job interview, and from October 2008 through the end of 2009 she had five, including some work as a lab tech.

"I realized I was on a treadmill," she said. "I wasn't going anywhere. I had to move forward in some way."

So Rosenberg began a master's program in library science at Southern Connecticut State University in January. She initially paid the tuition out of savings, but then qualified for state grants.

"I still look every day, of course, for jobs," she said.

Kathy Stack, who was laid off from a receptionist job in January 2008, worked for about six weeks in 2009 processing tax returns, not knowing it would mean a huge drop in unemployment benefits in 2010. Her checks have dropped $200 a week, and what's left "puts gas in the tank and buys toilet paper. Family's helping me keep a roof over my head."

The West Suffield resident worries that the Census workers will face the same fate in 2011, if they're still unemployed. She had no idea that taking a part-time job would affect her benefits that way.

Stack, 49, hasn't limited her search to the administrative jobs she's had all her career, mostly for insurance companies. She has applied for a UPS package-handler job, in warehouses, for retail jobs "the list just goes on and on." She hasn't had a single interview this year. Stack has 15 more weeks of unemployment checks.

"Being out of work so long, it's embarrassing. I feel like nobody wants me," she said. "I don't even really want people to know I still don't have a job. It's awful!"

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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