Capitol Connection: What’s Happening at the Department of Labor?

September 23, 2015

Many people are talking about a large round of layoffs and consolidations expected to hit CT’s Department of Labor (DOL). Most would agree that shrinking the size of government is an important part of getting spending under control. However, these changes raised some interesting questions that have led the administration to flip flop on their consolidation plans.

According to the administration, the department needs to reduce its staff and potentially close some job centers because of a decrease in federal funding to the tune of $32 million over the next two years.

Why does federal funding impact state employees? In total, 90% of the Connecticut Department of Labor’s budget is from the federal government; that’s roughly 700 of their 800 employees. When a state’s unemployment rate decreases, the amount of funding their labor department receives from the federal government decreases as well.

To deal with the reduced federal funding, the state announced earlier this year they will be laying off 95 employees. They also originally said that they would have to close 5 job centers as a result. You can imagine the uproar. The job centers are locations where unemployed or underemployed individuals can go to get help writing a resume or searching for a job. With thousands of people still unemployed across the state, closing programs designed to get people back to work was questioned by many.

Fast-forward to mid-September and the governor’s budget office is backtracking. The layoffs are still moving forward, but according to the Office of Policy and Management the job centers in Enfield, Meriden, New Britain, Norwich, Torrington and Willimantic will remain open. However, they will be managed by the Workforce Investment Board starting in October.

It’s important to reduce the size of government especially when faced with decreased funding. It’s also important to make sure our government is properly using its resources where we need them most.

Although this federal funding change indicates a lower unemployment rate, we have to keep in mind that CT is still not out of the woods when it comes to employment numbers.

Connecticut still lags behind nearby states. Job growth is very uneven. For example, CT’s manufacturing sector lost 917 jobs over the past year. In addition, 66% of total job gains recently reported by the state Department of Labor came from temporary help and landscaping – not permanent year round jobs. Another 27% in growth came from government jobs.

Another concerning factor is what could happen if companies start leaving CT as GE has all but committed to. It won’t be long before more jobs leave from companies of all sizes as the elimination of one huge player will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on the whole state, including our unemployment rate. Already, one in every three companies has reported being solicited to leave the state.

While a smaller government workforce is a good thing, clearly there are factors that need to be weighed before closing job centers. CT should be doing everything we can to help people find jobs, while also making the most of smaller workforces and limited resources when times are tough. I’m glad to see that the job centers will continue operating through the non-profit Workforce Investment Board.

Sen. Witkos, Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore, represents the 8th District towns of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. For more information visit