The latest jobs report is out, and once again Connecticut’s employment statistics are marginally better. We’re on pace to recover all the jobs lost during the recession by sometime in 2016. So why does it still feel like we’re stuck in the mud?
First, the good news: Connecticut’s economy is actually growing. Preliminary data suggests we gained about 1,200 jobs in April, which is slightly lower but still near the average gain of 1,500 jobs we’ve seen per month since the end of the recession. The unemployment rate continues to drift downward, and is currently hovering around 6.3 percent. These are decent numbers compared with how bad things got back in 2009 and 2010.
The bad news? Everyone else is growing faster than we are, our recovery is far less robust than surrounding states, and our latest gains are driven primarily by gains in government jobs and by the labor market closest to booming New York City. Other labor markets around the state and the private sector as a whole saw job losses, and, according to a recent poll from Mason-Dixon, everyone still feels that the economy is in the toilet.
This is some recovery we’re having, huh?
It’s not our location: not entirely, at any rate. New England as a region is actually doing pretty well. Connecticut and Rhode Island lag behind the rest, with unemployment rates above 6 percent while everyone else has unemployment down under 5 percent. The country is doing better, too — the national unemployment rate is 5.4 percent. Only 10 states have unemployment rates the same or worse than Connecticut, and only one of those, New Jersey, is in the northeast.
So what’s going on here? Why is our economy limping along so slowly while our neighbors are racing ahead? There are many answers, none of them particularly satisfying.
First, this is just what Connecticut does after a recession. Economic hardship tends to hit us later than the rest of the country and fade away later, and that’s where we’re stuck. I have no idea why this is true, but it’s one of those economic axioms that always seems to pan out, so there we are. Blame the slow economy on Connecticut being Connecticut. If you think about it that way, we’re actually doing slightly better than in previous agonizingly long recovery periods.
But there’s more to our anemic economy than the ups and downs of the boom/bust cycle: it’s partly the fault of long-term trends, as well. For instance, we haven’t bothered to invest in transportation and infrastructure nearly as much as we need to, and it’s catching up with us. The government, to its credit, is finally catching on to this, which is why we’re now seeing debates about tolls and big infrastructure projects.
Another long-term trend is that our economy gets gradually better and worse, but we don’t see a lot of rapid growth in new areas. Compare this to the 1980s, when our economy expanded rapidly and a lot of wealth and jobs poured into the state. From 1976 to 1988, for instance, the state gained about 400,000 jobs according to the