Report shows young workers, minorities hit hardest by recession job losses

While Connecticut lost over 119,000 jobs during the Great Recession, its impact was not borne evenly as young workers and ethnic minorities suffered disproportionately high unemployment rates, according to a new labor report issued Thursday by a New Haven-based public policy research group.

Connecticut Voices for Children also found long-term unemployment is particularly high, particularly among older workers, while every major sector of the economy except for private-sector health care experienced job losses during the recession.

The report also called for state officials to invest in education and training, as well as transportation improvements, while striving to reduce energy, housing, health care and other high costs that hinder business growth in Connecticut.

“It is troubling that so much of our future workforce – especially young workers and the growing Hispanic population — is unemployed now,” said Orlando Rodriguez, Senior Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices and co-author of the report.  “This trend does not bode well for our future.”

While Connecticut faces a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, among workers between the ages of 16 to 24, the rate doubles to 18.2 percent.

The study also notes that fewer graduates of Connecticut’s public colleges and universities are finding full-time work within the first year of graduation. For example, while 79 percent of graduates of the Connecticut State University system found full-time work right out of college in 2006, that number fell to 62 percent last year.

Jobless rates also were particularly high among Hispanics and African-Americans, at 17.7 percent and 15.6 percent, respectively. By comparison, the unemployment rate among white residents seeking work is 7.5 percent.

Not surprisingly, Connecticut’s urban centers, where minority populations are highest, felt the impact of the recession most heavily.

Cities with the highest unemployment rates include Hartford at 16.4 percent, Waterbury at 14.5 percent, Bridgeport at 14.3 percent and New Haven at 13.8 percent.

Though unemployment among African-Americans technically dropped from 16.1 percent in 2010 to 15.6 percent this year, blacks in Connecticut also suffer from high long-term unemployment. “It could be that the labor market has become so discouraging for African-American jobseekers for so long that many have dropped out of the labor force entirely since 2009, and are no longer looking for work,” the report says.

While nearly 50 percent of Connecticut’s unemployed population had been out of work at least six months in 2010, among African-Americans the rate approached 60 percent.

Connecticut Voices also found high unemployment in several of Connecticut’s poorer rural towns in eastern Connecticut, including top rates of 11.7 percent in Plainfield and 11.2 percent in Sprague.

By comparison, 10 of the 13 communities with unemployment rates below 6 percent in 2011 are located in the state’s more affluent northwestern or southwestern corners.

The urban and eastern rural unemployment trends could be a function of the continued weakening of the state’s manufacturing industry, which remains centered largely near cities and smaller urban pockets in Windham and New London counties.

The manufacturing segment of the economy suffered the most during the recession, which ran from March 2008 to January 2010. Manufacturing lost nearly 21,000 jobs over that period, during which only the private health care sector grew, gaining a modest 8,303 jobs.

Another contributing factor could be a continued link between educational attainment and success in the labor market.

The unemployment rate last year for those with a high school degree approached 12 percent while for those with only some high school that rate reached 22.6 percent. By comparison the rate for job-seekers with some college education was 9.4 percent.

The last recession also elevated the problem of long-term unemployment in Connecticut to the fifth-highest rate in the country. Though it traditionally has been a problem for racial minorities, the report also found it was particularly problematic for older workers. More than 60 percent of that unemployed population was out of work more than six months in 2010.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called for a fall special session to focus on job growth initiatives. Malloy, who has been meeting with business leaders and others throughout the summer to gather ideas for legislative proposals, is expected to unveil a package of initiatives before the October session.

Connecticut Voices recommended several components of a comprehensive economic strategy to help achieve new job gains.

The report recommends reviewing all business tax credits and tying any future tax breaks to specific and realistic job creation efforts.

But it also said state government need to increase its focus on education, investing more in the elementary and secondary levels as well as in its public colleges and universities.

“An effective economic strategy for Connecticut must broaden opportunities for all Connecticut workers,” said Matt Santacroce, co-author of the report and policy fellow at Connecticut Voices.  “We can’t afford an economy that leaves so many of our workers behind.”

Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature’s Commerce Committee, said he believes state government has made strides in terms of focusing its tax credits on more specific job creation proposals, and also when it comes to maintaining funding for young students.

The legislature and the Malloy administration launched a new First Five initiative this year that will focus tens of millions of state assistance on each of the first five Connecticut companies to pledge to create up to 200 new jobs.

Lawmakers and the governor also refused to reduce the $1.9 billion Education Cost Sharing grant program for municipal school districts as it eliminated a historic state budget deficit.

But LeBeau agreed that Connecticut needs to do more to educate its future workers at that last step before employment.

“We haven’t invested enough in our community colleges to help them gear up to provide the high-tech skills our students need,” he said.

And though the state is backing a major new initiative to expand biomedical research at the University of Connecticut Health Center, it lags behind in encouraging research into information technology and physical sciences at its flagship university, LeBeau added. “We have been making an enormous investment,” he said. “But it’s going to need even more support.”