Phyllis Zweifel was one of 14,300 Connecticut workers who lost their jobs in February, the largest monthly drop in nearly 15 years.
The decline brings Connecticut's job loses to 52,000 over the past 12 months, or 3 percent of the state's total labor force, according to a report released Thursday by the state Department of Labor.
An executive assistant at a Hartford architectural firm, Zweifel had beaten the odds for several months, surviving multiple layoffs.
"There had been layoffs here and there, starting in the fall," said Zweifel, of South Glastonbury, who described herself as an "older adult."
But on Feb. 2, the pink slip made its appearance, ending her three years on the job, she said.
February's job losses, a figure roughly equivalent to the entire population of Tolland, is the third-largest month-over-month loss since 1990, as far back as comparable data stretch.
In a separate survey of households, the state's unemployment rate edged up from 7.3 percent in January to 7.4 percent in February, the highest level since June 1992, the report said, but still well below the national rate of 8.1 percent.
The unemployment rate can be difficult to assess because it includes only people who are actively looking for work, and the sample size is relatively small. The slight increase, a tenth of a percentage point despite large job losses, could indicate that the number of discouraged job seekers — those who've temporarily stopped looking for work — is on the increase, state labor economist John Tirinzonie said.
As for the job losses, Tirinzonie said, "Many of the mass layoffs that had been announced in the fall are starting to come to fruition."
In February, for example, AT&T moved its operations from Meriden to an office in Ohio, eliminating 191 positions. Although some workers kept their jobs because they were able to move, last month's move cost roughly 160 people their jobs, Bill Henderson, president of Communication Workers of America's local union chapter said.
Among the 52,000 jobs that disappeared from the state's economy in the year ending in February, 45,000 were lost in the past six months, data show.
The cumulative total is rapidly approaching the 60,000 jobs lost during and after the last recession, from 2000 to 2003. But it's far fewer than the 151,000 jobs lost during the recession that gripped the state from 1989 to 1993.
Eight of the state's 10 major industry sectors experienced job losses. But the trade, transportation and utilities sector gained another 1,000 jobs in February — for the second month in a row.
However, the sizable losses that swept the business and professional services sector were especially worrisome. An estimated 6,400 positions were eliminated in that sector in February, the report said.
"These are generally good-paying jobs" that contribute to the creation of other jobs, said Don Klepper-Smith, of DataCore Partners LLC in New Haven and chairman of the governor's council of economic advisers.
Zweifel, whose job as an executive assistant fell into the professional services and "good-paying" category, said she had earned about $50,000 a year.
Her layoff means that she and her husband won't be fixing up the house and yard, as they had planned. "Our children are in their 30s," Zweifel said. "We were looking forward to putting a nest egg away."
Despite her master's degree in mathematics education, she said, she took a part-time, low-wage job at a supermarket last week. Although she is not officially listed as unemployed, she is still looking for a job in her field.
Unemployment declines are expected to continue through much of 2009, Tirinzonie added.
Monthly employment numbers, based on a survey of a sample of companies, are subject to revisions, which can be significant. Still, there is no doubt based on unemployment claims and layoff notices that the month's toll on the state was huge.
The numbers show caution by businesses in the face of weak consumer spending; uncertainty in the stock markets; and a sluggish housing market, Klepper-Smith said.
Klepper-Smith said he now expects the state's cumulative job losses to reach 80,000 to 100,000. He and other economists had earlier forecast losses in the range of 60,000 to 80,000.
He said the recession could, technically, end in the second half of 2009 as the huge federal spending programs take effect. But, Klepper-Smith said, "The true sign of economic recovery will be when Connecticut firms feel that business is sufficiently strong to warrant new hires and starts adding workers."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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