As appeared in the CT Post on February 16th, 2023, written by Joe Carbone

For decades, the American workforce system has addressed challenges that served as barriers to career attainment. Child care and transportation are two of the challenges, and both have long been considered to have a national impact. Billions of federal dollars have been allocated to address them. But another challenge is lurking and unlike the two I mentioned, this one is in Connecticut’s backyard; it’s not new, no one doubts that it’s there and no one doubts its destructive capacity. It’s the elephant in the room, and it’s why there is now an unmistakable link between affordable housing and Connecticut’s ability to build a competitive labor force.

Access to housing is a basic staple to living; it’s about families, vibrant neighborhoods and thriving businesses. Recent labor reports in Connecticut document a growing economy with job creation increasing while unemployment is at record lows. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Connecticut has approximately 100,000 open jobs and a labor force that is 53,000 people smaller than before the pandemic. The supply and demand disparity of skilled workers is worsening every day — just ask any employer.

For decades, Connecticut’s demographic data forebode a brewing population crisis. Connecticut is the sixth-oldest state in the nation with an average age of 41 years. Our mature workers are starting to retire in greater numbers. Many of our younger, skilled workers leave the state for more affordable opportunities elsewhere. Housing scarcity drives up prices, and raises the cost of living, making it more difficult for workers to find homes near employment opportunities. By some accounts, Connecticut is a whopping 85,000 units short of workforce housing.

Connecticut is experiencing an unprecedented demand for rental units, resulting in very low vacancy rates. Prepandemic statewide vacancy rates hovered around 6 percent, but it’s now just over 3 percent. The demand for income-restricted units is even tighter with a vacancy rate of just 2 percent. Access to stable housing is particularly important for low-wage workers, who typically have inflexible work schedules. If they face high housing and transportation costs, they are then more likely to experience economic instability. In addition, their performance at work may be negatively impacted due to stress caused by housing insecurity.

We must take decisive action to demonstrate that Connecticut recognizes these challenges and is ready to address them. It’s simple math — we have a people shortage. As a consequence, we have a shortage of workers in every sector of the market, and collectively they pose a formidable threat to our ability to compete for years to come. So this is not a job training crisis; at the core it’s totally fundamental. At all levels, renters and potential owners are being priced out of the market. If Connecticut can produce sufficient housing for all income levels, we will be positioned to attract and retain talent, thus creating opportunities for all.

I commend Gov. Lamont for his efforts to address this important issue. He has had the courage to raise this issue in prior years, and if it weren’t for the pandemic, I believe we would have been much further along at solving this problem. Most recently, the budget proposed by the governor includes $200 million in incentives for developers to construct workforce-related housing in our state. Further, he has supported developing a $669,000 telework training program to prepare people for remote work, which will create a labor pool for thousands of state residents.

Housing and employment are fundamental to the American dream. By addressing the workforce housing issue, our state will realize an increased labor force, greater tax generation, more jobs and the ability to address inequality. Yes, we should do it because it’s the right thing to do, but this time, it’s also a matter of our self-interest. It’s a means to an end, it’s prosperity for all and the avoidance of economic calamity. I will work with the General Assembly this session to help to make this point.

Joseph Carbone is president and CEO of The WorkPlace in Bridgeport.

Link to article