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Irene, Nor'easter Boost Job Growth Across State

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Like wars, weather disasters are apparently good for the economy. And getting people back to work.

Hurricane Irene helped to create 1,500 construction jobs across Connecticut, reducing the state's unemployment rate in October to 8.7 percent versus a national rate of 9 percent, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.

It marked the second consecutive monthly drop in the state's unemployment rate, which stood at 8.9 percent in September.

In Fairfield County, the unemployment rate dipped to 7.8 percent in October, down 0.1 percent from the previous month and down from 8.1 percent a year ago.

"There is a silver lining after all resulting from the horrible weather we had in the late summer and fall," said Patrick Flaherty, economist with the Connecticut Department of Labor. "Not only have we seen jobs created in construction as a result of Irene, we expect that to happen again after the unexpected October snowstorm."

That's the best news of all, at least temporarily for the construction industry -- which has been devastated by the recession -- that the trend will likely continue because of October's pre-Halloween nor'easter.

That storm, which resulted in prolonged and record-setting power outages that cost one power company CEO his job, is expected to create more construction jobs and lower the unemployment rate again this month.

The labor department indicated that all together, employers added 6,500 jobs for a second straight month of job growth in Connecticut. The biggest gain was in the professional and business service industry, which added 3,000 jobs. This sector includes temporary employment services.

"A second month of positive movement in Connecticut's jobs and unemployment numbers is always good news; however, the employment sectors that appear most responsible for October's job growth seem to be related to demand for repairs driven by Hurricane Irene," Andy Condon, the labor department's director of the office of research, said in a report issued this week.

"The strongest increases came from construction, temporary employment services, and services to buildings and dwellings," Condon said. "We would expect this type of job growth to be temporary."

But even a temporary boost in construction jobs is welcome news to an industry that lost 18,500 jobs from the start of the economic downfall in March 2008 through the recession's low point in January 2010, said Flaherty.

"As we have seen in New Orleans in a city being rebuilt after a terrible disaster like Hurricane Katrina, it does (at least) create the need for construction work and that results in jobs," Flaherty said. "We know this won't last forever, but this boost in construction jobs is coming at a good time with the holidays here."

Jobs in finance, however, dropped by 300 in October and are down 2,300 from a year ago, reflecting a continued strain on employment in that industry, said labor department officials.

They said the overall state labor force grew by about 6,500 in October, nearly double the 3,600 increase in September.

However, the workforce is actually down by 15,000 people from a year ago, reflecting a large pool of people who have abandoned the search for employment in the state, said labor department officials.

But with only 80,000 more jobs nationwide, economists indicated that Connecticut's job growth in October represented 8 percent of the national total, which is considered substantial, as the state is one of the smallest in the country.

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