Report: State's young workers have deck stacked against them

Young workers in Connecticut are facing a triple threat of employment problems — long-term job losses, high jobless rates and a discouraged workforce — according to an annual report on state work trends issued Thursday.

Timed for release near the Labor Day holiday, "The State of Working Connecticut: Young People in the Workforce," a study penned by the working-family advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children, also outlines racial and ethnic wage gaps in the state.

But the key finding of the report, written in partnership with the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, is the increase in employment problems among the state's younger residents — a group that has seen a large decline in the past two decades as many educated under-30 workers flee the state looking for a lower cost of living and better opportunities.

"If Connecticut continues on its current trajectory, its next generation will be less prosperous and more economically stratified than its current one," according to the report.

Key findings of the report, based on 2012 numbers, include:

• More than 17 percent of workers under age 25 are unemployed, the 15th highest youth jobless rate in the nation and three times the rate just a dozen years before. This is nearly a full percentage point higher than in the nation as a whole, and about twice the jobless rate seen in the 25- to 54-year-old age group in Connecticut.

• Only 54.5 percent of the state's youngest workers have jobs or are looking for employment. This compares to a 62 percent labor-participation rate just five years earlier, demonstrating that many young workers have given up on finding a job or have gone back to school.

• Connecticut had the second-highest rate of young workers who experienced long-term unemployment among all 50 states. About one-third of young jobless workers had been unemployed for more than 26 weeks, compared with a national average of 27.7 percent.

"The health of our common economic future will depend on our success in broadening economic opportunities for young workers," Orlando Rodriguez, senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children and co-author of the report, said in a statement.

"We urgently need a renewed commitment to supporting youth to get Connecticut back on track to a prosperous future," co-author Edie Joseph, a policy fellow at Connecticut Voices, added in a statement.

Michael Sullivan, communications director for Connecticut Voices, said in a teleconference that tying the minimum wage to inflation would help those on the lower rung of the economic scale, but a more comprehensive look at the state's job opportunities is required to address the fact that the state continues to replace lost high-wage jobs with new low-wage work.

"It's not just the number of jobs, it's the type of job," he said.

The report recommended three ways the state can help younger workers:

• Guarantee access to high-quality education from kindergarten through 12th grade by increasing school funding to close achievement gaps.

• Increase access to higher education and job training related to growing industries.

• Provide programs such as rental assistance, affordable housing and earned income tax credits that help low-income workers, hold down poverty levels and support families.

The report also noted that the state's black and Hispanic workers continue to suffer from high unemployment combined with low wages. Hispanics earned 55 cents for every dollar paid to a white worker in the state, according to the report, while blacks made 72 cents on the dollar.

Black and Hispanic unemployment were about double the rate seen among the white population, the report said.

"These disparities in economic opportunity are troubling for the economic future of the state," a report summary said.

l.howard@theday.com

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