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Shrinking Labor Force A Trend Across New England

By STEPHEN SINGER

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) â¿¿ Sometime last summer, Andrew Beck says he stopped looking for work, stymied as he got nowhere in his job search.

The Wethersfield resident was laid off in March 2009 as a vice president of marketing and communications at a health care system. After more than three years of unsuccessfully looking for a job, Beck, 61, said he believed he was repeatedly passed over by employers hiring younger workers who had not been jobless for years.

"It is very frustrating. It is very disheartening," he said. "It's not what I planned to do."

Beck is one of more than 47,000 unemployed people in Connecticut who have stopped looking for work, surrendering to a labor market that is failing to produce enough jobs.

Every month, Connecticut's stubbornly high unemployment rate gets much of the attention when the state releases labor data. But what's causing alarm among economists is the steadily shrinking state labor force as workers drop out, giving up their job search.

In a trend across New England, the drop in Connecticut's labor force is the largest. Economists in the six states cited reasons including an aging workforce in Rhode Island, a slow-growing population in New Hampshire and a "pent-up demand" to retire in Vermont. But in Connecticut, they're stumped.

Whatever the cause there, "the suddenness is like nothing we've seen before," said Andy Condon, director of research at the Connecticut Department of Labor.

The state's labor force contracted in each of the last six months of 2012, with about 2.5 percent exiting between 2010 and 2012, a steeper drop than elsewhere in New England or nationally, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who quit looking affect the unemployment rate because the government only counts as unemployed those actively searching for work.

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