Category Archives: Jobs

Interactive: UTC Workforce Town-By-Town Shows Widespread Local Impact

by Categorized: Jobs Date:

Quick: Which town has the largest number of United Technologies Corp. employees as residents? East Hartford, where UTC’s Pratt & Whitney complex once employed more than 30,000 people, and still has a payroll of 6,800?

Stratford, where 6,909 of UTC’s Sikorsky employees build helicopters? Glastonbury, a an upscale bedroom community just minutes from Pratt?

No, it’s Shelton, next to Stratford. Here’s the Top 10, released by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Monday as the governor and the company work to sell a groundbreaking economic development deal that would let UTC use up to $400 million in state tax credits in exchange for long-term investments.

    1. Shelton  808
    2. Manchester 768
    3. Milford 744
    4. West Hartford  683
    5. Glastonbury 660
    6. Stratford 636
    7. Middletown 598
    8. South Windsor 522
    9. East Hartford 515
    10. Enfield 512

The state is updating the list with more towns, including a count of where UTC’s hundreds of suppliers are located. Click here for the list showing the UTC presence town-by-town.

Plan To Charge Stores For Paying Low Wages: Flawed But Has Merit

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Politics, Poverty, Retail Date:

Connecticut is already one of the three states with the highest minimum wages and it’s the only one with mandatory paid sick days. Now advocates for the working poor are pushing for a novel plan to address the crisis of below-poverty wages: Penalize employers that pay too little.

The controversial plan isn’t in effect in any state and was narrowly defeated in Washington D.C., where Wal-Mart threatened to pull out. The idea is to extract money from low-paying retailers and fast-food companies to help the state compensate for the income supports that low-wage workers receive.

Fair is fair, the logic goes. Why should taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts?

Tina Conners, a McDonald's employee in Manchester who lives in her car. Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Tina Conners, a McDonald’s employee in Manchester who lives in her car.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Care to get upset? A recent report by the Connecticut Association for Human Services showed that a family of four with two adults working a total of 60 hours a week at $10 an hour would be eligible for $29,147 a year in public assistance — much of it Medicaid. And that wouldn’t even include the earned income tax credit, which would push the total higher.

That means you the taxpayer are subsidizing you the shopper to the tune of thousands of dollars for every low-wage sales employee. Still feel good about those 12-packs of socks for $6?

Under the Connecticut version of the wage penalty bill, which had a hearing Tuesday before the legislature’s labor committee, any company with at least 500 employees in the state would have to pay $1 per hour per affected worker into state coffers if it paid less than the “standard wage” for its lowest job classification. For a minimum wage worker in fast food, for example, the standard wage is $11.31 an hour — 130 percent of the $8.70 minimum.

The idea has big problems, illustrated in the story of Tina Conners, who’s from Manchester and told lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday, in a meeting in his office, that she lives in her car.  Conners, 21, works between 10 hours and 20 hours a week  at a local McDonald’s. She’d like to have more hours but can’t get them.

Conners was at the Capitol to push for the low-wage penalty and a higher minimum wage, which Malloy wants. But what she needs more than a slightly higher wage is many more hours. She told me she’d prefer to log 20 to 30 hours a week, leaving her time and money to go to college and eventually, a career as a dentist.

The $1 an hour penalty wouldn’t come close to paying for the public subsidies that we the taxpayers have to shell out for low-wage workers, but it would be a start. And it wouldn’t help Tina Conners add hours to her workweek; if anything, it could lead to fewer hours.

Another problem: Franchisers such as McD’s and Subway are not the employers. No worry, advocates say. Franchisers would be liable even if they didn’t own the stores in question.

Bills like this come up precisely because low-wage employers are abusing the public trust. We as greedy, shortsighted consumers are the ones letting them do it — all the worse in the case of the poison we’re buying and ingesting from the fast food industry.

And so the bill is politically brilliant if only for the point it makes: The fines would not go to the workers, in effect an enforced wage; rather, the money would go back to the taxpayers.  “Politically, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a home run,” said Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and a leader of the effort. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s not a home run for the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, who argue that the bill would raise costs in the state and drive out retailers that pay property taxes and offer opportunity to workers. “Our employers do the best job they can,” said Tim Phelan, president of the retail merchants group.

Well, no, they don’t. He can say that about his small retail members that are just getting by, but not about the big national chains and franchises that are transferring billions of dollars from taxpayers to shareholders by shortchanging workers. McDonald’s employees alone receive $1.2 billion a year in public assistance, an October, 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project showed.

Phelan and CBIA advance the idea that low-wage jobs are entry level. “They provide the learning experience,” said Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at CBIA, the state’s largest business group.

Certainly any specific worker can get ahead, but by definition the system will screw most people, simply because the wage structure at many big retailers is so bottom-heavy.

Both sides flash numbers showing why states should, or should not, force employers to pay higher wages or penalize those that don’t.  But ultimately, the states are just bystanders in a private-sector pay system that creates opportunity for a few and poverty for the many, to the benefit of us the consumers.

Maybe we should try the penalty. Flawed as it is, nothing else is working.

Hospitals Fire Back At Malloy: We Are 9 Percent Of CT Economy

by Categorized: Economy, Health Care, Jobs, Public finance Date:

Fresh from another snub by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Connecticut Hospital Association is waving around a new report that claims its member hospitals account for nearly 9 percent of all economic activity in the state, and that every dollar the state gives them brings $2.33 from the federal government.

The first statement seems hard to believe, though without question hospitals are a huge part any region’s economy, especially the hard-hit cities.  The second statement about federal reimbursement is not exactly true but isn’t always wrong.

The hospital association’s report says the hospitals employ 55,000 people directly, with a direct payroll of $5.3 billion, or $96,000 per job. By spending money in the community, those employees indirectly create another 56,000 jobs for a total of 111,000 jobs, and $11 billion in payroll.

Separately, the hospitals themselves buy goods and services that directly or indirectly create another $8.1 billion in activity, and they spend another $530 million on buildings and other capital projects which multiplies to $1.1 billion in the economy, the report said.

Grand total: $20.2 billion in a state economy that’s $235 billion a year.

That’s a rebuke to Malloy, who, the hospital association says, shorted the hospitals by just over $500 million in Medicaid reimbursements and other costs last spring that they said they would need to keep providing the same level of services.

Then, when Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, was asked by reporters on opening day at the Capitol last week whether there was anything for hospitals in this year’s proposal, he said simply, “No.”  When pressed, he said he had looked at the state filings and thought the hospitals were doing fine.

They of course disagree.

As for the $20.2 billion, we see a handful of these economic output reports from industries, and this one seems to push toward the high side. For example, I know there are formulas to get there but it’s still not clear to me how a group of employees with $5.3 billion in their pockets can give rise to another group of people who earn $5.7 billion.

Yes, we are all connected in the economy.

And as for the federal reimbursement, the hospital association appears to be referring to the Medicaid formula when it says the federal “match rate” is 70/30. That means for every additional dollar we spend on Medicaid, we get $2.33 back.

But Malloy and Barnes say their plan did not cut back on Medicaid spending, only on the amount the hospitals wanted to receive from the state. They say the $1.7 billion for hospitals is actually up slightly, but of course the hospitals argue that Medicaid spending is up more than slightly.

To be continued this spring at a state Capitol near you.

Stop The First-Woman Madness!

by Categorized: Jobs Date:

When Janet Yellen won a Senate vote Monday to head the Federal Reserve, the world’s most important central bank might have inched to the left under an economist whose history shows she could be more concerned about unemployment than she is about protecting the currency.

And when New Yorker Dora B. Schriro persuaded Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to hire her as Connecticut’s top state cop, she made the case that her academic credentials and experience running several huge prison systems outweighs the fact that the top cop has never been a cop at all.

These questions matter, for better or worse. What doesn’t matter is that Yellen and Schriro will be the first women ever to run their respective organizations.

And yet — especially in the coverage of Yellen — that faux distinction seems to have found its way to the top of most news coverage.

Saying a highly accomplished professional is the “first women” in her new job, and celebrating that milestone, doesn’t help the cause of advancement for women. On the contrary, it’s a setback. Here’s why: It calls attention to the person’s gender, when that’s exactly what she earned the right to have us ignore.

File photo of then Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Yellen arriving at the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium in Wyoming

Yellen

Harp John Woike/the hartford Courant

Harp
John Woike/the hartford Courant

Does anyone think Yellen and Schriro, and for that matter New Haven’s newly inaugurated Mayor Toni Harp, rose to their jobs because they’re women? All three of these 60-something women have spent decades at or near the top of their respective fields, building credentials. Calling them “the first woman,” even while that’s obviously true, trivializes their unique careers.

Here we are in 2014. Two thousand and fourteen — 30-some years after Britain swore in its first female prime minister, forty-some years after the workforce was forever changed by the mass entry of women into the job market.  Some have called this the Year of the Woman, a name that comes up every few turns of the calendar, one that should be marked by gender blindness when it comes to jobs.

Being the first woman mattered for the World War II generation. Giants like former Gov.  Ella Grasso had to break through much more overt opposition based on gender tradition than we see today. Sarah Palin as vice president or even Hillary Clinton as president?  As their opponents will quickly tell you, their womanhood is the least of it.

Take a cue from the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, whose executive director, Teresa Younger, issued a statement Monday about Schriro — not jumping up and down that a governor finally appointed a female head of the agency that includes the state police, but calling for progress in deeper gender issues.

“We look forward to working with her on policies and procedures that will help remedy gender inequity among [the department's] ranks and leadership.”

Clearly, then, this isn’t to say all is well and good in the world of gender equity. Corporate boards remain overwhelmingly male, for example. And the so-called gender pay gap — women make 78 percent of male wages in Connecticut, according to the Permanent Commission – does reveal some unexplained pay differences even though most of the gap is explained by jobs and experience.

Women landing in formerly male jobs does matter. What isn’t right is making a big deal of it in an age when the number of women graduating college has long exceeded the number of men, women are trained for combat and we’re now seeing more women in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Now, if hoops standout Brittney Griner were to earn a roster spot on an NBA team, that would be an exception.

 

Report Shows Grim Shortage Of Living Wage Jobs In Connecticut

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Poverty Date:

A new report Tuesday showed more detail about what we already knew: That most jobs in Connecticut pay less than the so-called living wage, and that there are lots of people looking for a few good jobs.

How bad is it? Connecticut’s living wage for a single adult with one school-age child is $28.68 an hour, and two-thirds of all projected open jobs in the state pay less than that, according to the 15th annual “Job Gap Study” produced by the Alliance for a Just Society.

Worse still, Connecticut will have 41 “job-seekers” for every open job that pays that $28.68 wage, which translates to about $60,000 a year at 40 hours a week, all year. A job-seeker is defined as a person who’s unemployed and actively looking, working part-time not by choice, or not working and not looking because he or she is discouraged by the lack of jobs available.

The living wage for a single adult in Connecticut is $19.44 an hour, or about $40,000 a year, the level where about half of openings will occur, the report claimed. And there are 25 job-seekers for every one of those openings — by far the largest number of any of the ten states studied in the report.

Nationally, the report said, there are 21 million job-seekers, down slightly from the depth of the recession in 2009 but up from 11 million in 2007.

The Connecticut report, released by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, lists $1,261 a month for housing and utilities for an adult with one child, $630 a month for clothing and personal items and $307 a month for health care.

Connecticut in May adopted a higher minimum wage, which rises by 45 cents from $8.25 to $8.70 an hour on Jan. 1, then by another 30 cents to $9 an hour at the start of 2015.  The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not changed since 2009, and the alliance backs the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the wage to $10.10.

That’s still short of the $15-an-hour wage that fast food workers will demand Thursday in a national day of strikes in 100 cities, including Hartford and New Haven.

But the problem is more complicated than raising wages across the board. We need to understand why work has been so badly devalued, and how to address it without throwing thousands of firms out of business, perhaps through a tiered minimum wage.

Hoping For Pipeline Work, A Union Trains Installers

by Categorized: Energy, Government, Jobs, Labor Date:

We could be years away from a big buildout of natural gas pipelines under the state’s long-term energy plan, but when it happens it could be big.

So on Tuesday, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478 flexed some muscle by demonstrating its new training program for unemployed and underemployed workers hoping to get into the pipeline pipeline. The Meriden-based union local would like the work to go to its members, of course, and is offering up $4 million worth of equipment for training, along with experts.

“For over 100 years, Local 478 has been a top provider of highly skilled operating engineers in the state of Connecticut,” said Craig Metz, business manager for the local, in a written release.

The idea, pushed hard by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was on hand Tuesday, and encoded in an energy bill adopted earlier this year by lawmakers, is for the state to take advantage of natural gas supplies by building out a transmission and distribution system that regulators said could exceed 900 miles.

Predictions call for a shortage of crews in a state that now adds just a tiny fraction of that pipeline amount in a typical year. The operating engineers’ training program drew a lot of cheers from labor, construction and political quarters, as Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the state AFL-CIO called it a perfect example of government-labor cooperation.

It does look like a good idea and it’s better to be ready than not ready. The danger is that worker training programs are rife with potential pitfalls — especially if the work never materializes. Natural gas could spike in price, the planned buildout could face delays or another shock to the labor market could create a glut of pipeline workers.

But in both energy planning and labor markets, educated guesses are all we have. And for now, we think we’ll need pipeline installers for the next decade.

CT Jobs Forecast: Better, Not Great

by Categorized: Economy, Housing, Jobs Date:

NOTE: Click here for an updated version of this post — but look at the chart first.

Connecticut’s economy will build steam in 2014 and 2015 with healthy if not spectacular job gains, but will continue to lag the nation and the New England region, a new forecast shows.

Job totals, on track for just over 14,000 new positions in 2013, will climb to 18,700 in the gubernatorial election year of 2014, then 24,900 in 2015 before slowing somewhat after that, said Edward J. Deak, Fairfield University economics professor and Connecticut manager for the New England Economic Partnership, which released its twice-yearly forecast Wednesday.
Chart shows predicted job changes by percent.   Courtesy of New England Economic Project

Chart shows predicted job changes by percent.
Courtesy of New England Economic Project

The reason for Connecticut’s gains is simple: A rising national economy, which is expected to add jobs at nearly twice the rate of Connecticut in the next few years, will bring this state along in its coattails.
And the reason for Connecticut’s continued sluggishness, Deak said, is the same as what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing: High energy costs, constrained land use and, mostly, no great engine of growth, despite stirrings from the state-sponsored biotech industry.
Headwinds include continued restructuring in finance, especially as interest rates rise as expected; and competition for the casinos in neighboring states.
Manufacturing is forecast to remain flat or lose jobs.  The traditional factory strength, defense, will be bolstered by the latest jet fighter for the Pentagon, though that program is advancing more slowly than planned in part because of the federal sequester.
“It’s quite clear on the basis of what the Department of Defense is doing here that they want to see the F-35 go forward, plus that’s going to be a big export item,” Deak said Wednesday, ahead of the economic partnership’s Boston conference scheduled for Thursday.
Unemployment, which should average 7.9 percent in 2013, is forecast to drop to an average of 7.5 percent in 2014, then 7.1 percent in 2015.  It will reach 6.4 percent in 2017, Deak predicts, and even that number is well above the 4 percent to 5 percent levels of earlier boom times.
All of the predicted figures for Connecticut are weaker than those of the rest of New England and well below that of the nation.  But Connecticut doesn’t need fast growth, some experts say, because it’s adding population more slowly.
Deak, in fact, predicts that the total number of people working or actively looking for work — the labor force — will rise by about 20,000 people over the next three years, which would be good for job totals but would temper the decline in the jobless rate.
The best year upcoming is clearly 2015 in the forecast, as job totals return to a semblance of boom times and home construction reaches 8,500 new units, from a 2011 low of 3,000.  But the job totals won’t return to the pre-recession high of 1,713,000 until mid-2016, and the home construction levels will not return to their 2005 peak of 11,000, let alone the heady buildups of the 1980s.
As decent as the numbers look in 2014 and 2015 — both years well north of 1 percent job gains — Deak pulled them back from much higher baseline forecasts for Connecticut by Moody’s Analytics.  Under the New England Economic Partnership model, Moody’s projects numbers for each state based on the U.S. economy, and the state managers adjust based on local conditions.
Moody’s forecast gains of 25,000 jobs in 2014 and a wild and crazy 35,000 for 2015 before Deak made his adjustments.
All of this crystal ball stuff is just that, as Deak and the partnership turned out to be way off last year, when they predicted a disaster resulting from the sequester.  But barring unforeseen events, the direction of things seems clear: The 2014 economy might help Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his re-election effort, and if he can win, he’ll be able to claim credit for more gains in 2015.

AFL-CIO’s Trumka: Tributes For Olsen, Threats On Benefits

by Categorized: Government, Jobs, Labor, Politics Date:

Richard Trumka, the blunt-speaking head of the international AFL-CIO, largest labor federation, was in town Friday for the retirement dinner for John W. Olsen, and joined Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to celebrate some state labor efforts in Hartford.

Trumka later addressed some tough issues.

Trumka With Malloy and Wyman in Hartford Friday. Cloe Poisson/the Hartford Courant

Trumka With Malloy and Wyman in Hartford Friday.
Cloe Poisson/the Hartford Courant

One of the labor programs, launched late in 2012, gives veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan a better chance to get jobs back home as police and firefighters. So far 30 vets have been through or started the workshops for “Vets to Cops” and “Vets to Firefighters,” and five have been hired in public safety jobs, the state Department of Labor said.

This was a way for Malloy to further align himself with labor in a non-controversial way. Who would oppose such a thing, which costs very little and gives Malloy a chance to talk about ways the state is making it easier for returning vets? He has, for example, issued an order requiring commissioners to review policies on licensing and certifying vets and their spouses for busines and education programs, “to give them all of the credit we can possibly give them,” Malloy said at the labor center in Hartford’s North End.

In another initiative, the state Department of Labor now sends out a list of jobs and training opportunities to unemployed people every week, culled from sources that used to be all over the place. “One of my personal great joys,” said Karen Quesnel, a business services specialist who helped create the weekly email, is when someone says, “Take me off of that distribution list.”

Trumka talked about that with Malloy and about some hot-button issues with reporters afterward.  “The best way to support our troops is to give them a good job with decent pay and benefits when they come home,” Trumka said.

That’s the easy stuff.  Trumka recently raised some hackles by renewing his threat to go after and Democrats who support cuts in Medicare and Social Security – which many believe are necessary if the nation is to get out from under more than $16 trillion in debt. On Social Security, Trumka angrily said, “How about taking the cap off of it?”

He was referring to the fact that the Social Security payroll tax, 12.4 percent for employers and employees combined, is not charged on income above $113,700 per worker.  Raising the cap more than the inflation-based increments that are scheduled would amount to a tax increase on the upper-middle class and the rich, something the Republicans, especially in the U.S. House, won’t allow.

As for raising the retirement age or applying a means test to Social Security, Trumka is unwavering.  Sure, for comfortable people like you and me, he said to me and two other journalists, we can work a couple of extra years. But my father worked in a coal mine until he couldn’t last any longer at age 62, he said. “It’s a life or death situation for some people!”

The AFL-CIO, more than ever, has become the force of the economic left wing, not just a coalition of unions, and talking with Trumka shows why the Democrats, who still rely on labor support, can’t easily negotiate on the national debt. “The rich had a party and we weren’t invited to it,” Trumka said.

He was, however, invited to China, where he visited in October for four days, becoming the first AFL-CIO leader ever to do so.  Could AFL-CIO, which has a few people in a “solidarity” office in China, play a role in the nascent union movement there? “I don’t know where it goes,” he said.

Trumka has been outspoken about China using unfair tactics to steal U.S. jobs, especially in manufacturing. He’d like to see better pay and improved worker protections in the world’s most populous nation, and met with the Chinese equivalents of the labor secretary and head of the national safety administration.

That had to have been a bit uneasy – but no, said Trumka, a burly labor leader who can pour on the charm. “First of all, the Chinese are very, very gracious hosts,” he said. “We talked very openly and very frankly about what’s going on.”

The Chinese consider strikes, including one at a Toyota plant recently, to be neither illegal nor legal, Trumka said.  And while he doesn’t consider the official Chinese labor union to be an independent movement, he quipped, “I wouldn’t mind having some state help with organizing over here.”

Olsen and Trumka go way back to the days when Trumka was president of the United Mine Workers and Olsen was consolidating power in Connecticut. “When we were fighting strikes like Eastern and Pittston [Coal Co.], I didn’t have a single member in this state but he was always there. He was the first one to step up and the last one to sit down,” Trumka said. “I’ll miss him.”

 

CT Shutdown: What’s Happening Around The State

by Categorized: Economy, Government, Jobs, Politics, Public finance Date:

The Haar Report’s “CT Shutdown,” is a constantly updated wrap-up of what’s happening as non-essential federal employees remain off the job. Please leave comments with more information.

  • Sen Richard Blumenthal will donate his pay to Wounded Warriers during the shutdown:

  •  Rep. Jim Himes tweets that he’s not taking pay:

  • After the Coast Guard canceled an event…..

    On Wednesday, October 2, the United States Coast Guard Academy will be recognized by Connecticut Light & Power and the Energize Connecticut initiative (www.EnergizeCT.com) at a celebration for the opening of their newly constructed energy efficient chiller plant, which will distribute chilled water to campus buildings for air conditioning. USCGA received an $54,641 incentive from the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund for the new model, which will save them over 199,300 kWh/year.

…..The Courant’s Mara Lee tried to find out whether any civilian employees there have been furloughed.  A coast Guard spokesman referred all questions to Washington, DC, where no one answered at two media relations numbers.

Report Card For The Nation’s Middle Class: A Big, Fat D

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Poverty, Wealth Date:

How do you feel about your buying power over these past few years since the recession supposedly ended? Barely treading water?

You’re not alone. Median household income for the nation was flat when adjusted for inflation, at $51,017 last year compared with $51,100 in 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

That’s the fifth straight year of flat or falling incomes, with declines totaling 8 percent. If you think the stagnant median — the point where half the nation’s 122 million households make more, half less — is a result of economic malaise, think again. Just since the end of the recession, buying power for the household in the middle is down by more than 4 percent, while total inflation-adjusted income in the United States is up by more than 5 percent and the major stock market indexes have doubled.

HC-Census-incomes-091813

This is the national report card on the prosperity of the middle class. The grade: a big, fat D. And it’s not just a few lousy years: Median household income has fallen or stayed the same in 11 of the past 14 years since the last great run-up of the Clinton era, as income has jumped ahead by more than a quarter.

On Thursday we’ll see the state’s median, and we have no reason to believe it will be any better — especially since Connecticut’s four metro areas were all near the bottom of the pack in overall economic growth in 2012, reported separately Tuesday.

Poverty was also unchanged in the nation in 2012, at 15 percent, the Census report showed. The number of Americans with health coverage edged up, reflecting more people eligible for Medicare and slightly more young adults covered under their parents’ plans. But the tally of uninsured Americans, 48 million, was statistically unchanged from 2011.

Connecticut can expect to fare better in reducing the ranks of the uninsured when the numbers come out Thursday, as preliminary figures show. Poverty may also show a decrease in the state, which added an earned income tax credit in 2011. And there are straightforward ways to improve both of those measures.

But when it comes to the median household income figure, the Census report is a deep disappointment with no hope of an easy solution. Forecasters had predicted a small increase, but even that — which didn’t happen — would not have masked the struggle of typical families.

“For well over a decade households that would have, in prior periods, gotten ahead have failed to do so,” said economist Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former ranking adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. “The extent of this disconnect is so profound that if it doesn’t wake policymakers up … I can’t imagine what would.”

To put it in perspective, the median climbed by 15 percent during the Clinton years, from $48,884 to $56,080 (in 2012 dollars), before the long declines. And even that Clinton-era run-up wasn’t as strong as in the glory years of 1947 to 1973, when the nation’s median multiplied, unfettered by global competition, with union membership near or above 25 percent.

Connecticut, usually in the top three states for median income, is following a similar pattern, except with more ups and downs as key industries rise and fall.

So how should we think about what’s happening?

Clearly, based on the fact that overall income is rising and income at the bottom is falling, the rich are seeing more gains. But it’s not just the plain vanilla rich, according to a recently released study based on IRS data — it’s the super-rich, the 1 percent, that has sucked in a disproportionate share of recent gains in income.

This isn’t class warfare. The problem isn’t that the rich are getting richer; power to them, at their best they create jobs. The problem, as Bernstein says, is the disconnect between economic growth and typical pay.

I tend to think the situation is hopeless at a time when Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree to pay the nation’s previously promised debts, when China is launching its own aerospace industry, when armies of insurance workers are losing their jobs to cheaper workers on visas from India, when large numbers of U.S. high school graduates basically can’t read.

In that view, we’re in a sort of permacession for vast tracts of working families, a downturn beyond the boom-and-bust cycles, in which the American empire declines in a more or less orderly way. A stagnating median household income number is not a sign of the empire’s decline, it is the decline itself. The median is to the economy what stock prices are to a publicly traded company.

Bernstein and others, without sugarcoating the lousy numbers, are more optimistic. After all, the U.S. economy is growing decently and, most important, it’s creating income at a nice clip. What we have is a failure of policy, they argue. It’s just a matter of finding a way to get that income back into the hands of the mass population — preferably right in the paycheck rather than at the back end with government supports.

“What we should focus on … is how we as a state and a community make sure that people are equipped to deal with the changes in the economy,” said Matt Santacroce, a policy analyst at Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven-based advocacy and research group.

Santacroce mentioned the unemployment trust fund, the minimum wage, the earned-income tax credit, programs for child health and job training. “On a broader level, what we can do is make sure that the state is producing workers that come out of our K-12 school system and out of our public university system who are equipped to handle the 21st century economy … really ready to go to work.”

All good stuff, all of it worthy, but it costs taxpayer dollars. Conservatives tend to think the middle class would do well if the government would get out of the way and stop spending money, and that disagreement is why it’s hard to gain much traction either way.

Bernstein sees a higher path than arguing about government income supports. The key is workers’ bargaining power, which only happens in times of full employment, when the jobless rate is low — such as the 1960s and the ’90s.

“If you conclude that the only thing we can do to help middle- and lower-income households is provide benefits once they’ve been smacked around by market outcomes, you’re really giving up the game,” he said. Instead: “Worry less about tweaking the tax code and the budget deficit and worry about what would it take to get the unemployment rate down.”

One of his possible solutions is to view the government as an “employer of last resort,” just as the Federal Reserve is a de facto lender of last resort.

That gets us right back to the partisan debate, but is also reminds us — on the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the government’s dramatic rescue — that if bailing out workers is socialism, then so is bailing out banks and automakers, and so is offering a tax-free ride to pharmaceutical firms and other companies that employ people and conduct research, and so is handing $115 million in state taxpayer dollars to the world’s biggest hedge fund to make sure it stays in town.