Job numbers say Conn. still emerging from the shadow of Great Recession Job numbers say Conn. still emerging from the shadow of Great Recession

Boston Fed expert: Policymakers must consider the changing pool of job seekers as recovery continues Boston Fed expert: Policymakers must consider the changing pool of job seekers as recovery continues

May 3, 2019

Connecticut’s labor market still hasn’t regained the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, nearly a decade into the recovery. Meanwhile, its pool of “long-term unemployed” has changed significantly during that time, challenging policymakers to figure out new ways to help them find work.

Jeffrey P. Thompson, senior economist and policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and director of the New England Public Policy Center, said Connecticut’s long-term unemployed are increasingly non-white, older, and more educated.

“The state will have to adjust to the changing populations to meet workforce and human services needs,” Thompson said.

Thompson spoke to political, business, social services, and community leaders at an April 18 forum organized by the anti-poverty group 2GEN Advisory Council as part of the “Whole Family Approach to Jobs” initiative.

Forum attendee Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said he was discouraged by the lagging jobs recovery and emphasized the state must try new strategies.

“We need to be creative and understand the things of the past aren’t going to get us where we need to be in the future,” Brennan said.

Thompson’s data indicated Connecticut still has not regained the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, even as the U.S. and New England economy as a whole have added jobs. He also noted Connecticut’s marquee insurance industry, part of the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector, is still struggling to recoup losses from the recession. That sector had an 8.6 percent share of Connecticut’s total jobs in 2007, but has a 7.5 percent share today.

At the same time, the largest job share gains during that time were in two lower-paying sectors: Leisure & Hospitality and Educational & Health Services.

“The economy has changed and has shifted toward lower-paying jobs,” Thompson said.

Thompson offered a profile of today’s unemployed as disproportionately young, less educated, and non-white, and he noted the jobless rate for the state’s black population of 9.1 percent is actually higher now than before the recession.

He said the “long-term unemployed,” meaning those out of work for 27 weeks or more, look somewhat different from shorter-term job seekers. They are also disproportionately non-white, but they’re increasingly older and better educated, in both Connecticut and New England.

  • From 2013 to 2018, the percentage of long-term unemployed who were age 45 or older rose from 44.1 percent to 50.3 percent in Connecticut and 39.1 percent to 58.1 percent in New England.
  • During that same period, the percentage of long-term unemployed who had at least a college degree rose from 20.8 percent to 29.2 percent in Connecticut and 16.8 percent to 44.2 percent in New England.

Thompson said the evolving makeup of this group demands new solutions. For instance, the needs of a high school dropout and 45-year-old with a bachelor’s degree are quite different.

“The assistance that a given job seeker needs is going to depend on what they bring to the table,” Thompson said in an interview.

At the forum, attendees pointed to various workforce initiatives in Connecticut, including a state apprenticeship program that offers classroom instruction and on-the-job training in various trades.

State Rep. Terrie Wood said getting a four-year college degree is “absolutely oversold” and emphasized developing opportunities that rely on Connecticut’s “gem” of a community college system.

Maura Dunn, vice president of human resources and administration at defense contractor Electric Boat, touted both the pay and availability of manufacturing jobs statewide. She said Connecticut needs to “skill people for the jobs that actually exist.”

“Between the three major defense contractors in this area, there are literally thousands of jobs that need to be filled,” Dunn said. 

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