Paul Choiniere (opinion): Diverse advocacy groups agree on what ails Connecticut

When you have the head of a business association and a researcher for a progressive think tank pointing toward the same solutions to improve Connecticut’s economy and provide more opportunities for its citizens, the building blocks for compromise on policy are in place.

Gov. Ned Lamont and the state legislature should take notice.

Chris DiPentima, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, points to a lack of workers to fill job openings as hindering state economic growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates there are nearly 100,000 job openings in Connecticut.

“Connecticut has 1.5 job openings for every unemployed person,” noted DePentima. The state’s unemployment rate is 3.5%.

“We have the jobs — what’s needed are the people to fill those jobs,” he said. DePentima’s solution? “Address key factors like the state’s high cost of living and the lack of workforce housing and childcare options.”

Meanwhile, the Connecticut Voices for Children released its “State of Working Connecticut” report back in September. It attributed the “state’s lackluster economic performance to its high costs of living — particularly housing and childcare expenses for families.”

“By not sufficiently addressing the housing affordability problem in the state, by not sufficiently reducing barriers to entry in the workforce, by not sufficiently addressing the childcare problem … it’s become too expensive for a lot of families to move here and or to stay and grow here,” said Patrick O’Brien, the organization’s research and policy director.

Connecticut Voices also pointed to what it considers the state’s regressive tax system as a drag on labor growth. On that point, the CBIA disagrees. In any event the legislature, having passed a broad middle-class tax cut during its most recent session, will want to see how that plays out before considering more tax changes.

But it is a big deal that two such diverse advocacy groups agree on the need to address the high cost of living in the state, particularly for housing, and that affordable, quality childcare is necessary to unleash the full potential of the workforce.

Basically, the business trade organization and the family and child advocacy group recognize that Connecticut needs more people of working age with skills better aligned to the jobs that are available. Businesses will not expand or locate here if the workforce is inadequate to meet their needs and if potential new workers can’t afford a place to live. And families are less likely to relocate or stay here if it is too expensive.

Controlling electric rates, among the highest in the nation, will mean overhauling the regulatory framework and pushing past opposition to provide needed infrastructure upgrades. Providing more affordable housing will mean overcoming resistance in many towns to the multifamily development that can make it possible. Expanding childcare options will require salary increases for this workforce, state financial subsidies and training opportunities.

Connecticut is aging. It is the seventh-oldest state in the nation, with 17.5% of its 3.6 million residents aged 65 and older. The perception that this older population is fleeing to warmer states with lower taxes is overstated. According to recent Census Bureau estimates, there are 582,815 people aged 65 to 84 in Connecticut, considered the active window for retirement years. Year over year, that is a 3.44% gain, ahead of Florida’s 3.37% increase for that age group.

The state’s population has stabilized, increasing about 1% between 2010 and 2020, the last official census, and continuing slow growth in the years since, according to Census estimates.

The twin goals should be to try to keep many of the state’s aging citizens in Connecticut — statistics show it will continue to expand — with the wealth they accumulated over a lifetime spent here, while bringing a new generation of families to the state. This won’t be easy. And an aging population will present challenges. But an agreement on the nature of the challenge could lead to agreements on solutions.

Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. He can be reached at