It's not just the snow, cold and freezing rain that has Connecticut hunkered down and hoping for sunshine ahead. Unemployed members of the workforce are waiting for their personal storms to end.
Many people focus on Connecticut's publicized unemployment rate of 7.6 percent and think "not too bad." However, based on the U6 unemployment rate, which broadens the definition to include the unemployed in the workforce, plus those marginally attached to the labor force and those employed part time for economic reasons, the real rate is closer to 14 percent. Connecticut has only recovered 52 percent of the more than 121,000 jobs it lost in the recession, lagging behind the majority of the country, which has recovered close to 80 percent.
Current marketplace trends are not adequately reducing unemployment. As a result, 22,000 Connecticut residents (6,500 in the Hartford area) lost their unemployment benefits on Dec. 29. A Happy New Year for them, it is not.
Thousands more will exhaust their unemployment insurance (after 26 weeks) in 2014, as they try to save their homes, put food on the table, purchase health insurance and find money for other necessities. And for every unemployed worker, up to three times the number of family members are affected.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal recently visited the CTWorks One Stop Career Center in Hartford. He met with unemployed people who were educated, skilled, passionate, coherent, innovative and simply want to work again. "We are assets. We just want to get back to work," they said. But their resumes continue to fall into what they refer to as black holes. Their dedication to searching for jobs is waning, as are the balances in their 401(k)s, their credit scores and their ability to lead productive lives. They are experiencing home foreclosures, struggling to pay their taxes and bills, and losing their self-esteem for the first time in their lives.
We have got a lot to do to dig out, and get these people back to work. This will take a major coordinated and sustained effort for the next several years.
For the short term, we need to support the senator's request to restore extended unemployment insurance benefits from the mere 26 weeks it now covers. Job searches often take considerably longer than that, particularly for workers older than 45.
As part of a longer-term and meaningful outcome, we also need to increase federal and state resources for targeted retraining and for business incentives to hire the unemployed. Training subsidies will make our workers more competitive, and wage incentives for businesses to hire the unemployed (such as the state's Step Up Program) have high success rates. National research shows public-funded employer incentives like these work.
Additionally, we need to address both age and long-term unemployment discrimination through federal and state legislation. We also need to leverage the state's proactive business/job creation initiatives (such as First Five, Energy Plan, Waste Management Task Force). These efforts need to be better aligned with talent creation strategies through our workforce development and education systems to put residents back to work, and enable our state to be more competitive.
Lastly, a more concerted effort is necessary to let employers guide the way. Connecticut businesses should assist in the design and financing of customized skills training programs, working with secondary and higher education institutions, local workforce investment boards and the Department of Labor, to meet their specific organizational goals. With a succinct understanding of the skills needed to help these businesses grow, workforce development and education systems can better align to these goals. Further, there are a host of supports available to businesses, like the Step Up wage incentive program, and training funds to help with growth strategies. We need to do a better job of letting businesses know what resources are available to them.
We must increase the discussion of positive workforce advancements that help businesses grow and compete, while, at the same time, clearing the way for individuals to make the transition from unemployment back to the workforce.
Thomas Phillips is president and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners, North Central Connecticut's Workforce Investment Board.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun