May was a good month for Connecticut's labor market, with employers adding 5,800 more jobs than were eliminated.
The robust growth followed the addition of 1,700 jobs in April and 4,000 in March. On average, since February 2010, when the state started climbing out of the deep hole created by the Great Recession, the state's employers have added about 1,400 jobs a month.
Unemployment remained steady at 6.9 percent, according to Thursday's report from the state Department of Labor. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in May.
"At this point, the resiliency of the recovery appears to be bringing people back into the labor force," said Andy Condon, director of the labor department's Office of Research. Condon said the data showed that a good portion of newly unemployed people are not workers who lost their jobs, but people who had given up looking for a time, and now are searching again. The federal government only counts people as unemployed if they have tried to find jobs in the past month.
The same survey that estimates the unemployment rate — a separate survey from the one that measures job growth — found there were about 7,800 more Connecticut residents working in May than there had been the month before. There can be more new workers than there are new jobs because Connecticut residents may be commuting to New York or Massachusetts, and because people are also hired into existing positions that were vacant because someone retired, quit or was fired.
Bill Phillips, 47, of Bristol, was one the Connecticut residents who landed a job in May. He had lost his job of 22 years at ESPN in May 2013. After his severance ended, he received unemployment, and those checks ran out in May this year. Then Phillips took a job at the Macy's warehouse in Cheshire, which pays $11 an hour. He's officially scheduled for 21 hours a week but sometimes can pick up extra shifts. He said last week he worked 37 hours.
If he worked 37 hours every week, the pay at the warehouse job would be about 60 percent less than what he made as a media specialist at ESPN.
Over the past year in Connecticut, the fastest job growth has been in warehousing and transportation, hotels and restaurants, and low-end manufacturing — all sectors with large numbers of low-wage jobs. Of the 12,500 net new jobs in the state, these categories contributed 9,600 jobs.
The sectors that are contracting the most are high-value, durable-goods manufacturing, down 2,800 jobs; government, down 2,600 jobs; and finance and insurance, down 1,500 jobs. The report said insurance employment and construction employment both fell in May.
Phillips has had interviews for jobs managing video feeds, at a local TV station, at World Wrestling Entertainment, and again with ESPN for an expansion in Charlotte, N.C. But so far, he hasn't been able to return to the field and a solid, middle-class wage.
His experience is typical of job-seekers around the country who were out of work for more than six months. Princeton University economists analyzed statistics gathered on unemployment, and presented their findings at the Brookings Institution in March. Of people who were out of work for more than six months from 2008 to 2012, and were interviewed 15 months later, 64 percent were still not working, including 34 percent who were no longer looking for work. Of the 36 percent who were working, two-thirds were either working part time or in short-term temporary jobs.
Milva McGhee of Manchester, 50, also started working in May after 11 months of unemployment, though she has had intermittent contract work for a job-coaching firm. She had worked as a career counselor at a Rhode Island college for years, and her last job was as an interim coordinator of a graduate student program for a private university in Connecticut.
McGhee, who has a master's degree in higher education administration, started substitute teaching in public schools in May, usually getting a few days a week of work.
Although her husband is employed, their standard of living depended on both salaries, and once her unemployment ran out in February, the couple began having to delay paying bills. "I've been dismantling the IRA," McGhee said in April.
In June, she found full-time work at Springfield College in Massachusetts, but it's a four-month assignment as an administrative assistant. It pays about 60 percent of what she earned in her last job.
"I'm grateful to have a paycheck most definitely," McGhee said of her temp job in Massachusetts.
Since her last job ended, she's had about a half-dozen interviews for professional-level college jobs. She has had to search for jobs many times during her career, as she moved for her husband's career, but generally found jobs in nonprofits or at colleges within three to six months. She may move again because of how hard it's been to land a job this time.
"I'm being geographically flexible. If I get a position in Florida I would go," she said.