The Connecticut state Capitol.

Connecticut added more than 55,400 jobs in 2021, roughly 4,400 more than originally projected, the state Department of Labor reported Friday in its year-end assessment.

That pushed the state’s unemployment rate to 5.1% to close the calendar year, though it bumped back up to 5.3% in January as the omicron variant of COVID-19 struck Connecticut hard in mid-winter.

“We’ve seen significant economic recovery over the past year,” said Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo. “Businesses hit hard by the pandemic are coming back, hiring is up, and the unemployment rate is down.”

Connecticut now has recovered more than 225,400 of the 289,400 jobs lost during the first two months of the pandemic, March and April of 2020. That’s about 78%.

But Connecticut’s economy had already failed to clear another key hurdle before the pandemic had even begun.

The state had lost nearly 120,000 jobs during the Great Recession, which ran from late 2007 through mid-2009. And even after a decade — right up until March 2020 — Connecticut only had recovered about 80% of those positions, about 95,000 jobs.

Bartolomeo said she believes the latest numbers “highlight the underlying strength of the economy and continued good news for job seekers. There are challenges ahead of us—it’s important to keep the virus in check to keep the economy growing, and we must continue efforts to attract workers to Connecticut.”

The labor department’s director of research, Patrick Flaherty, noted that average hourly earnings rose almost 3% over the past year, climbing from $33.77 to $34.71.

That, coupled with the very healthy job growth Connecticut enjoyed last summer before omicron took hold, shows “the labor market really is trying to heal,” Flaherty said. 

The past year saw solid growth in key labor sectors including manufacturing and construction, he added.

But the state’s chief business lobbying group, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, took a more pessimistic outlook.

CBIA President and CEO Chris DiPentima called the bump upward that unemployment took in January “a disappointing start to the year” following nine consecutive months of job growth, and many businesses still are struggling to find workers.

“Our labor shortage is a full-blown crisis,” he said. “We have 110,000 job openings” statewide.

The CBIA and other business groups continue to press Gov. Ned Lamont and the legislature to prioritize state tax relief this spring as well as new investments in job training and workforce development.

“The time for lawmakers to focus is now,” DiPentima added. “I cannot emphasize enough the size and scope of this issue and the potentially disastrous consequences if we fail to act.”

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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.