By Chris Bosak, Sunday, March 19, 2017
State employment numbers released March 10 by the Department of Labor point to an improving job market, but younger Connecticut residents, especially those in cities, are not celebrating.
While the state added 5,700 jobs in January and the unemployment rate stands at 4.5 percent — less than half the rate during the height of the recession — the unemployment rate at the end of 2015 for young people was 10.10 percent, according to the 2016 State of Working Connecticut Report. While the numbers are not broken down for young people who live in cities, economists and youth advocates said the rate in urban areas is likely around 20 percent.
Other studies agree. The [DataHaven] Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2016 shows that 24 percent of people under the age of 25 in the county are unemployed or underemployed — those working part time, but seeking full-time work. In Bridgeport that number grows to 41 percent.
"The Wellbeing Report confirmed that unemployment for youths is Fairfield County is high and particularly high in urban areas,” Nancy von Euler, vice president of programs at Fairfield County's Community Foundation, said. “There are more young people looking for work in the cities because they have to contribute to the family income. Many of those people are isolated from opportunities young people have in other areas because of barriers to employment such as transportation.”
What most people agree on, however, is that education and employment programs for younger workers are keys to reversing the trend of high unemployment in the cities.
Connecticut Voices for Children supports transition programs and education initiatives to address the issue. Thomas said other steps can be taken by the state to improve the situation, such as encouraging economic growth in urban areas and instituting property tax reform for cities.
“This would help relieve some of the fiscal disparity,” Thomas said. “The goal is economic development and having the cities be engines for growth, but at the same time these municipalities are strapped financially.”
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has programs such as Thrive by 25 and the Family Economic Security Program. The goal of Thrive by 25 is to have every young person in Fairfield County achieve self-sufficiency by age 25. The main paths to achieving this are scholarships, vocational education and quality internships.
FESP provides low- and moderate-income women who support families with scholarships, funding, financial coaching, career coaching and mentoring to help them stay in school and graduate. FCCF works with Norwalk Community College and Housatonic Community College with these and other programs.
“Our strategies have been to look at ways to bridge the achievement gap,” von Euler said. “We also look at opportunities to have young people introduced to a work setting earlier through summer youth employment programs and internships. If we can engage young people and help them be successful, it’s a huge opportunity for the county.”