Conflicting economic numbers point to a slow CT recovery

Gov. Ned Lamont speaks March 15 in Bridgeport, Conn. Even as Lamont expanded COVID-19 vaccinations to state residents as young as age 45, initial jobless claims jumped in mid-March by their highest level since April 2020.

Gov. Ned Lamont speaks March 15 in Bridgeport, Conn. Even as Lamont expanded COVID-19 vaccinations to state residents as young as age 45, initial jobless claims jumped in mid-March by their highest level since April 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

As the nation marks a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut got what appeared to be an unwelcome reminder of the pernicious state of the pandemic economy Thursday — sharp jumps in the unemployment rate and the number of residents filing initial claims for benefits.

Both numbers might or might not signal a hiccup in the state’s recovery, and both could reflect quirks in the way the government collects data and administers its programs, more than what’s actually happening in the world.

At the same time, the state Department of Labor also reported that employers added 3,000 jobs in February, and the agency revised a January report from no change in jobs to an increase of 1,000. Those numbers, too, are just a rough estimate based on a monthly survey of employers, which could — and often is — revised way up or way down.

It all points to a slow, spotty recovery.

The state’s official unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent in February, up from 8.1 percent the month before. That was based on a survey of households, which appeared to show a drop so large in the number of Connecticut residents with jobs that it simply didn’t happen.

The U.S. unemployment rate was at 6.2 percent in February, down a tick from 6.3 percent in January.

More than 8,800 Connecticut residents filed initial claims for jobless benefits last week, the highest number since January when claims were north of 10,000 weekly, as retailers wrapped up the holiday season. Some of those claims, however, are from people who have had to refile the initial claims form as they reach the expiration of their regularly allotted unemployment benefits, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.

As of the first week of March, more than 208,000 state residents were receiving assistance under federal unemployment programs, according to a Thursday update from the U.S. Department of Labor, with the number little changed since the start of the year. Since the start of the pandemic, the Connecticut Department of Labor has distributed $7.5 billion in assistance to some 580,000 residents.

Some 28,000 Connecticut residents receiving extended unemployment assistance already now qualify for an additional seven weeks of aid, beginning April 4 under the federal High Extended Benefits program.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s unemployment claims data is an actual census — and a dispiriting one, with Connecticut’s initial claims nearly doubling last week. That had not happened since April 2020 when mass layoffs decimated the state economy. Massachusetts also absorbed a massive spike as well, as initial claims rose by nearly half.

But even with some existing beneficiaries filing new initial claims forms, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island saw initial claims subside incrementally from the previous week. Nationally, initial claims dropped 12 percent from the week before to 684,000.

More than a million Connecticut residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines, with the state extending eligibility to all residents beginning on April 1.

On Wednesday, Lamont referenced the link between vaccinations and economic confidence during a stop in Waterbury to promote an expansion of commuter rail service in the Naugatuck River valley. Lamont drew attention as well to Vice President Kamala Harris’ planned trip to New Haven Friday to address child care for working parents among other elements of the American Rescue Plan signed into law two weeks ago by President Biden.

Lamont has touted the federal plan as a major boost for the Connecticut economy, but on Wednesday referenced continued challenges some parents face in returning to work amid hybrid school schedules.

Including initial claims filed to continue existing benefits, women comprised roughly 60 percent of the initial claims filed in mid-February according to the Connecticut Department of Labor. It was the first time in a year women have reached that percentage threshold among Connecticut claimants, though with DOL still processing initial claims that could elevate the percentage of men in the final tally.

“The Rescue Plan provides significant resources for child care and day care and I think that’s part of what she wants to celebrate,” Lamont said Wednesday. “I’m just shocked that we have fewer women in the workforce today — the lowest level of participation in 30 years — and a lot of that is related to child care and day care. So we’re going to be there to talk about some big ideas and make day care broadly available to everybody ... and help those single parents get back to work.”

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman