Connecticut, apparently, never really recovered from the recession of the early 1990s. A lot of us have suspected as much for a long time, but here, at last, is the proof:
Connecticut has the worst job stagnation in the country, with employment only slightly higher now than at the beginning of the 1990s, a federal agency said Tuesday.
The state has lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 15 years and had the lowest growth in its professional and business services sector in New England, according to a report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. ...
FDIC officials said in a conference call that Connecticut's lack of job growth stems from the state's slow population growth and the steady loss of manufacturing jobs.(AP)
Connecticut, as the article correctly notes, relied heavily on the insurance, banking and defense industries for the boom we experienced during the 1980s. The recession of the early 1990s cut deep into those traditional employers, forcing many of them to either cut staff (Aetna), merge with larger companies (Travelers), relocate out of state (pick one) or shut down completely (countless smaller firms). We have, to put it bluntly, not recovered. The looming loss of the sub base will be yet another nail in the coffin of the old economy.
To make matters worse, our population growth is slowing to a crawl, as is traffic through the state. The cost of living is high, here, and the climate can be a little rough for the uninitiated.
So what can be done? What should the government be doing to help? I think a pertinent question is whether or not a government can legislate economic growth, or whether economic cycles happen independently of government. I believe that government actions do have an effect on the economy, but only up to a certain point. That being said, here's what the government can do:
1. Transportation. We need cheap, reliable public transportation linking the major urban and suburban centers of the state. This could take the form of rail lines, river lines, better bus services, busways, or anything else people can think of. Just don't put Amtrak in charge of it. We also need to upgrade the infrastructure of the state's highway system to handle the crushing pressure put on it every day.
2. Education. This is one of our strengths. Connecticut is home to many fine colleges and universities. Unfortunately, our state university system is not up to the standard of, say, Pennsylvania's. We can do better. We can also make sure that students who have the ability to go to college will be able to attend. One idea I keep hearing that I like is akin to the G.I. bill--students who put in a set amount of public service of some sort during college will get an awful lot of financial assistance. The government can also provide technology-heavy job retraining programs for people who are out of work.
3. Encouraging Businesses to Open and Stay. We do a poor job of this, and it isn't just because of taxes. There are other ways to support businesses. We don't have to rely on the old standbys of cutting taxes, keeping wages low and abolishing regulation (the evidence for the efficacy of these plans is spotty and mixed, to say the least). Addressing the pressing need of cities and towns for more state aid will help remove some of the property tax burden on business owners, and streamlining regulations to make business easier while still addressing the concerns the regulations were established for are steps in the right direction. A well-educated workforce and 21st century infrastructure will go a long way towards encouraging and retaining businesses as well.
Lord, I sound like I'm running for something. But there certainly are at least some steps the government can take. After that...? We may have to do the rest on our own, if we want to avoid the fate of so many other regions of the Rust Belt.
To drive home the point about just how much the state has done to spur job growth since the early 1990s, here's something I used to see when I commuted from Enfield to Newington every day back in 2000:
In a cracked and overgrown parking lot by the side of I-91 in Hartford, right near the Colt Building, sat a rusting, abandoned tractor trailer. On the side of it were the words: "The NEW Connecticut: Where JOBS are the 1st Priority!" It had been there for years.
The truck, and the slogan, were relics of the Weicker administration. I doubt that anyone had dusted off either since.
"State's Job Stats Grim." Associated Press 28 June, 2005.