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Job Fair Shows Difficulty Of Reducing State's Unemployment

New Jobs Report Shows Unemployment Ticked Up in May; 1,400 Jobs Added To State Economy


June 15, 2012

few hours before the state jobs report was released showing that unemployment had ticked up to 7.8 percent in May a sparsely attended job fair showed how politicians are trying to chip away at what feels more and more like an intractable problem.

It's not that things haven't gotten better in the labor market in Connecticut since job losses bottomed out in February 2010. A 7.8 percent rate is noticeably better than 9.4 percent unemployment, where the state hovered from August to December 2010.

Still, the job growth in the first five months of 2012 was 20 percent slower than in the same period in 2011.

With a gain of just 6,100 jobs so far this year, if things continue at this pace, it will take 5 1/2 more years to get back to the number of jobs the state had before the Great Recession.

"Given the fact that more people are trying to enter the workforce because they're more optimistic they can actually find a job, the change in the unemployment rate is not a surprise," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement after the jobs report was released. "As I've said all along, changing an economy that failed to grow jobs in a meaningful way for a generation won't happen overnight. But I am committed to seeing this through."

The data for May shows that 1,400 jobs were added to the state's economy; unemployment rose a tenth of a point from April's rate.

Against that backdrop, U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, welcomed about a dozen veterans with construction work experience that had been invited Thursday morning to a program he is calling the Veterans Construction Jobs Match. The Connecticut Department of Transportation, UPS and eight construction companies came to recruit the men.

Joe Jackson, marketing director at Rizzo Companies, said his company needed two, maybe three workers.

He described the state of the construction industry this way: "You can feel a pulse." He said Rizzo was a lot busier before the recession.

Statewide, there are about 50,000 people working in construction, a few hundred below May 2011's level and down 18,000 from five years ago.

Manufacturing, construction, finance and insurance and real estate businesses all have fewer workers than they did a year ago.

State Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall told the group that there are two tax incentives for hiring unemployed veterans and a wage subsidy available for them up to $9,600 in federal tax credits and $900 a month in state tax credits.

The subsidy would cover 100 percent of a newly hired, formerly unemployed veteran's salary, up to $20 an hour, for the first two months and a gradual phase-out for another four months. That subsidy just passed the state legislature this week, but it is dependent on the State Bond Commission's approval of a proposal to borrow $10 million to pay for it.

But what he didn't say is that all of those incentives are only for people who have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2011. Just two of the men interviewing at the veterans job fair Thursday served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and only one of them was unemployed and therefore qualified.

Most of the veterans at the job fair were in their 40s and 50s and have been having trouble getting steady work for years.

Jeff Wilson, 47, had hoped to get hired by Metro North, as he's been studying engineering technology at a community college and he passed a signal trainee test a year and a half ago. But he has never been placed into one of the railroad's training classes.

From 2008 to 2010, he was a self-employed truck driver, but the spike in diesel prices made survival impossible.

"The price of fuel shot up to five bucks. It put everybody on their knees," he said.

Wilson, who lives in East Haven, was told about the job fair because he worked in construction for years before starting his own business.

"Construction, when it picks back up, I'll be back in the seat," he said.

His job hunt has taken on new urgency because his unemployment checks ended last month, and his wife's accounting job ended, too.

Wilson's skills are more varied than those of Mark Dunnells, 54, who last worked as a laborer three years ago and has six years of experience in construction. In recent years, he hasn't even been able to get temporary work.

"I used to be able to show an employer how hard I can work. Now I can't even get a job with Labor Ready," he said, referring to a day labor placement agency. "I've had a couple brushes with the law, too. That don't help."

Falisu Moody, 43, just finished a $14-an-hour, monthlong temporary job at a local manufacturer this week, but he wasn't chosen for a regular job. He last worked steadily in 2008, when he was a pipe layer for a year, and while he's tried to go to school for a truck-driving license, car troubles prevented him from finishing.

Finding a job is urgent because his wife is out of work, too.

When his wife worked at McDonald's last year, he said his primary job was taking care of their 3- and 6-year-old daughters, though he continued to apply for jobs.

"I've applied for many different jobs, all the Burger Kings in Hartford, the Wendy's, the McDonald's."

His wife was fired from McDonald's after four months at the beginning of the year.

Moody was hopeful he could get into a Jobs Funnel program in New Haven he has never been able to get a spot in Hartford's construction training program for hard-to-employ people or perhaps be hired as a laborer by O&G, one of the construction companies he interviewed with Thursday.

Usually, construction companies are tolerant of his felony conviction, he said, but not always, remembering a job in 2006 he lost over his record.

"It's been a hindrance, I don't have any violence or any drugs or anything like that. It's just when companies run to see if you have a criminal background, they judge you pretty much," he said. "I let everyone know because I don't want it to come back and haunt me."

Moody was in the Marines in the late '80s and now wishes he'd made his career in the service.

"I should have stayed in the military, done something better for myself and my family," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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