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From No Workers To No Work

February 12, 1991

HAMDEN, Conn. (AP) _ A couple of years ago, Mitch Chrostek worked six days a week to keep up with Connecticut’s construction boom.

″Now I can’t even find a job to hang a door,″ Chrostek said.

During Connecticut’s construction boom, Chrostek worked six days a week. Out of habit, the laid-off carpenter still rises at 6:30 each morning - although the only work he can find is at home, where he uses his free time to finish some household projects.

The state’s unemployment rate rose from 3 percent in 1989 to 4.8 at the end of December. Chrostek’s story is the other side of statistics that tell in stark numbers the story of an economy that went from good times to bad.

He goes to the unemployment office, dressed for work - in dungarees, a sweat shirt and work boots. He waits in line nearly two hours, only to find the paperwork he needs to obtain help paying his utility bills isn’t ready.

″It’s tough being unemployed when you’re used to money coming in,″ said the 34-year-old New Haven resident. ″It’s dramatic.″

A real estate bust, the deepening bank crisis, a decline in defense contracts and a national recession have brought Connecticut’s economy to a grinding halt.

Two years ago, Connecticut employers fretted over how they were going to fill jobs. The state’s jobless rate was at a level some economists regard as full employment.

Contractors recruited tradesmen from as far as Michigan and offered bounties to workers who could find them extra men. Some companies sponsored English classes for recent immigrants in an attempt to widen their labor pool. Restaurants pleaded with the Legislature to lower the working age so they could fill vacancies in their kitchens.

But like much of the nation, Connecticut’s economy tumbled. By last month, things were so bad the unemployment insurance fund went broke and the state was forced to begin paying claims with money borrowed from the federal government.

Connecticut expects to borrow at least $227 million through March.

Even industries that once seemed the most secure - from banking to insurance - have eliminated jobs.

The state’s largest private employer, the jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney, announced last year it would eliminate about 2,000 jobs by 1993. The Electric Boat shipyard, maker of the Navy’s Trident nuclear submarine, laid off more than 350, many of them white-collar workers.

Aetna Life and Casualty Co., one of the nation’s top five insurance companies, cut about 2,600 jobs. Connecticut Bank & Trust, before being seized in January by federal regulators, announced 450 layoffs.

″It’s kind of a grisly thing. It’s sad to see so many people in dire straits,″ said Mary Beth Colello, manager of claims processing at the New London unemployment office.

″We’ve tried to pinpoint it to one particular group, but it isn’t,″ she said. ″You expect during these months to see some people in the trades out of work, but we’re seeing an awful lot of professional people, even corporate officers. ... It’s very much across the board.″

For people like Chrostek, there’s little to do but cut expenses. After losing his job, the father of two lowered the heat in his home, stopped going out to eat and canceled a winter vacation in Florida. Chrostek’s wife has also been out looking, without success, for a job.

″I just don’t know what is going to happen,″ he says of the months ahead. ″Things are getting tough for the first time.″

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