UConn Journal: Job growth continues, but won’t match early 2012 pace

After opening the year with a bang, the state’s job market likely will return to more modest growth over the next year, leaving Connecticut well shy of recovering all jobs lost in the last recession, according to the University of Connecticut’s latest economic journal.

The summer issue of The Connecticut Economy, unveiled Friday at the Capitol, projects that the state will gain about 12,000 jobs over the final three quarters of 2012 and through March 2013. Those gains, coupled with about 40,000 jobs already created since 2010, represent fewer than half of the 120,000 jobs lost in the last recession.

“We’re talking about some fairly respectable job growth,” UConn economist Steven P. Lanza, executive editor of the journal, said, referring to the 7,000 jobs Connecticut’s economy grew during the first three months of this calendar year.

But Lanza also said that first quarter growth has to be seen through the lens of some unusual weather.

Hartford temperatures averaged 7 degrees above normal January through March, and this seasonal blip may have encouraged construction firms and other employers whose work fluctuates with the seasons to hire early.

The construction industry was the biggest job gainer in Connecticut during the first quarter, adding 2,000 jobs, the journal states, adding that the industry “normally adds three times that many jobs” during the second quarter of the year.

“We sort of borrowed these jobs from future quarters” and added them early between January and March, Lanza said.

Retail numbers also traditionally grow in the spring and summer months, and the journal states that Connecticut’s balmy first quarter “may have coaxed shoppers out of hibernation too.”

The retail sector added 1,800 jobs between January and March — growth that may not be repeated again in the second quarter, when it normally arrives, Lanza said.

Still, even after the construction and retail job growth has been set aside, Connecticut added more than 3,000 jobs in the first quarter, respectable numbers that helped pushed the unemployment rate to as low as 7.8 percent, he added.

“The economy may possess some underlying strength after all,” the journal states, projecting this growth — excluding seasonal construction and retail gains — is the primary reason for some optimism over next year.

Lanza noted that most economists are projecting Connecticut’s gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services it produces, to jump between 2.1 percent and 3 percent over the next year. That would translate into somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 new jobs, with an average projection of 11,600 positions.

Still, that is not enough to change the fact that Connecticut’s recovery from the recession that ran from 2008 through early 2010 remains modest.

In the two years since that recession ended, the state regained 32 percent of the jobs it had lost. After the recession of 2001-03, Connecticut regained 39 percent of lost jobs in the first two years afterward, Lanza said, adding, though, that the earlier recession was milder than the one the state faced in 2008.

One factor holding Connecticut back, Lanza said, is a linchpin of state government’s revenue system: the financial services sector.

Though the stock market has rebounded considerably from the low point it reached in the last recession, the financial services industry continues to lag behind the economy in terms of job growth.

Lanza added that “government certainly has been a drag on the economy,” reducing employment at federal, state and municipal levels.

Though Connecticut took a different route than most other states did after the last downturn — using a mix of tax increases, labor concessions and other spending cuts to balance its budget — all levels of government have largely frozen job growth over the past two years.

Since 2010, Connecticut has gained 5,000 private-sector jobs per quarter, on average, while losing 1,300 public-sector jobs per quarter. The private-sector numbers alone represent “pretty robust growth by recent historical standards,” Lanza said.

The state Department of Economic and Community Development declined any immediate comment on the latest UConn report.