The job market looked dismal as we closed out 2012, with thousands of Connecticut residents abandoning job searches in the final month. But numbers can be deceiving and hope is on the horizon as employers show a renewed interest in hiring this year, experts say.
On Thursday, the Connecticut Department of Labor issued a report showing the loss of 1,800 jobs in December left the state down a total of 100 positions for the year compared with 2011. The unemployment rate declined to 8.6 percent from 8.9 percent last month, mostly because 40,800 people quit looking for, or going to, work, shrinking the labor force.
"Kind of a flat note," said Andy Condon, the Connecticut Labor Department's director of research on how the state finished 2012.
The announcement contrasts with a report from the U.S. Labor Department on Thursday showing weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000 -- the lowest number since the recession began in 2008.
But he doesn't think these numbers will hold up and other experts agree Connecticut's job numbers have been a touch out of step with reality during the last half of 2012.
Condon explained that the quarterly report that businesses submit for unemployment insurance reimbursement usually runs six months behind the monthly labor report. And that data from the first half of 2012 shows the state has 10,000 more jobs than the monthly reports have been picking up. The third quarter numbers will be available in March, he said and that should clear things up.
But December was disappointing. Retail suffered the biggest loss, down 1,600 jobs and the key financial services industry was off 200. Health care, which has been among the bright spots in the labor market actually cut 200 positions in December. Construction workers found employment last month, however, as did factory workers. Condon said construction appears to be benefiting from superstorm Sandy work and that could help the industry well into 2013.
Evidence of a pickup in hiring can also be found at job fairs, according to the chief executive of a Norwalk human resources firm.
"The strength of the job market in the second half of 2012 has carried some momentum into 2013," said David Lewis, CEO of FairfieldCountyJobs.com, which is holding a fair on Jan. 22. "It is very exciting to see so many area employers with so many diverse needs planning to participate at this event."
More than 18 businesses in the area, seeking to fill 80 positions, have already committed to the job fair which starts at 3:30 p.m., at Operations Inc., 535 Connecticut Ave., Norwalk. The previous job fair, hosted in October by the online job site was attended by 13 businesses seeking candidates for 30 open positions.
Exhibitors will include World Wrestling Entertainment, Stamford Marriott, Northwestern Mutual, Greenwich Hyatt, Norwalk Medical Group and Connecticut Community Bank.
"We have a number of positions -- graphic artists, admins, community relations, corporate communications, finance and the need for people with expertise in the digital space," said Sean Cleary, senior vice president of human resources at Stamford-based WWE. "We fill between 150 and 200 jobs a year. The vast majority are in Stamford. We have 720 employees, and 95 percent are in Stamford."
Teaming with Hire Heroes USA, WWE will participate in a job fair Feb. 28 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Among positions businesses will be seeking to fill are jobs in administration, accounting, health care, hospitality, information technology, finance, customer service, manufacturing, human resources and marketing.
Businesses seem more willing to hire, now that the presidential and congressional elections have been completed and Congress took steps to avoid the "fiscal cliff," Lewis said.
"Now I'm very bullish about growth in 2013," Lewis said, but he sees no strength in any one sector, such as in 2005 to 2007 when there was job growth in financial services.
Many postings on his firm's job site are in the medical, banking, services and health sectors.
"There are a lot of open jobs at these firms. Many are from entry-level to mid-level management, which is great," Lewis said.
But there are a lot of people looking for work. FairfieldCountyJobs.com has a database with more than 40,000 resumes from area job-seekers, allowing employers to source candidates directly on its website.
Other career fairs are reporting similar interest in hiring from employers.
In East Hartford at Rentschler Field, the Department of Labor and its partners have signed up 60 employers for the ninth annual College 2 Career Expo, being held on Jan. 30. Last year's College 2 Career had 50 companies.
For Hearst Connecticut Media Group's Jan. 24 career fair at the Trumbull Marriott, 15 companies have committed to attending with expectations of seven to eight more coming on board. Hearst is the publisher of this newspaper.
"But next year you could see 20,000. The national and European economy should be better in 2014," he said, but he was discouraged by the state's December labor figures. "For the state, it's more of the same in job growth."
Perna expects that 2012 jobs statistics will be revised slightly upward in March, once all the data is in.
He said some companies will have to hire over the next few months as the business climate improves.
"If you have been squeezed for four or five years, you're probably understaffed," Perna said. "Companies have stretched as far as they can go and have to meet business increases with increases in hiring."