Connecticut posted a mixed jobs report for December as the unemployment rate dropped from 4.7 percent to 4.4 percent, despite the loss of 1,700 jobs that month and the downgrading of November’s job gain, the state Department of Labor said Thursday.

The November report of 2,100 new positions was downgraded by 1,900.

Despite these drops, Connecticut’s unemployment rate for December was one full percentage point lower than one year ago at that time. The state lost 2,000 jobs in the 2016 calendar year.

“Connecticut’s December employment numbers continued the recent trend of mixed signals from the two monthly employment series produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said Andy Condon, director of the department’s Office of Research. “While we do not yet have supporting data, a combination of tight labor markets, an aging workforce, increased self-employment and growing out-of-state commuting could explain slowing job growth and rapidly declining unemployment rates.”

But Durham economist Don Klepper Smith with DataCore Partners noted that Connecticut’s population between mid-2015 and mid-2016 fell by 8,278 people. Part of that net change was the departure of 29,800 Connecticut residents for other states, a trend that is accelerating, and related to the growing cost of state government and its broader economic impact.

“In effect, the state is now at a crossroads,” said Klepper-Smith, who was chief economic advisor under Gov. M. Jodi Rell. “We either make the hard political choices to move the political needle toward fiscal discipline and living within our means, and boost business confidence in the process, or we don’t.”

Connecticut still has not recovered all of the jobs lost in the last recession, which ended in February 2010. According to the department, 83,800 of the 119,100 jobs lost have been regained, or 70.4 percent.

Private sector unemployment decreased by 1,600 jobs in December and was down by 1,000 positions for all of 2016. The private sector has added back 95,000 of the 111,700 jobs it lost, or 85 percent.

“We have a significant challenge going forward in terms of improving our economy particularly in creating jobs,” said Peter Gioia, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s chief economist. “Creating jobs solves a myriad of problems. It improves the housing situation, provides more income, and creates more tax revenue.”

Four of Connecticut’s 10 industry super-sectors recorded job gains in December, led by education and health services, which was up 800 positions. Gains also were recorded in manufacturing; financial activities; and leisure and hospitality.

The largest loss, a drop of 1,700 positions, occurred in professional and business services. Other super-sectors that experienced losses include trade, transportation and utilities; information; construction and mining; government; and other services.

The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk Labor Market was the only regional market to add jobs in December, up 1,300 jobs.

Employment in the Norwich-New London-Westerly market was unchanged.

The biggest loss was recorded in the New Haven market, which lost 900 positions. The Hartford-West-Hartford-East Hartford market, which was the fastest growing throughout 2016, fell by 200 jobs in December.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate over time
Connecticut’s unemployment rate over time

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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