Joe volunteers to run a youth soccer club. He wants kids outside and on the field. But the Connecticut Department of Labor is getting in the way. The Department of Labor has audited Joe’s nonprofit in Guilford plus 93 other youth leagues. Now, Joe is afraid to pay people who work with his club.

If youth sports leagues are afraid to pay workers in Connecticut, other employers must be terrified.

Many in Connecticut are struggling, causing them to lose hope in themselves, our state or both. With simple reforms we can get them exactly what they need: a job near their home that allows them to provide for their family.

Connecticut regulations have us stuck in the past. Instead of embracing new arrangements that work for employer and employee, we are issuing audits. If the Little League isn’t safe, who is?

Learn more about Connecticut Can Work! reforms.

We need to remove red tape and allow more people to work in Connecticut. Unfortunately, according to state income tax data, the number of people earning less than $20,000 a year is growing and their average income is declining.

According to Connecticut Voices for Children, the underemployment rate between ages 16 and 24 has reached 18.4 percent, leaving nearly one in five young people without as much work as they want. Let’s create an opportunity wage that makes it easier for people to get started during high school and after graduation.

Many politicians look down on jobs they consider inferior. Work should be celebrated, and not just for how much it pays.

A job provides an opportunity. At all levels, but especially starting out, jobs teach skills and increase the likelihood of rising to the next level. This is just one reason why long-term unemployment is so damaging. The good habits and skills that come with work slip away over time, hurting job prospects going forward.

Unemployment insurance benefits are valuable to help people through the gaps between jobs. However, those benefits aren’t free. Employers pay them back over about three years. That means benefits increase the cost of hiring new workers.

That is usually an acceptable trade-off. However, some employees in Connecticut seek benefits when they are fired or after quitting. Currently, the system is tilted so far in favor of these employees that many of them end up with benefits. Employers recognize the deck is stacked against them. They fail to show up for hearings 40 percent of the time, believing their time is better spent elsewhere.

I’ve heard of an employee who threatened another worker and was fired, only to collect unemployment. I’ve heard of workers “taking the summer off” paid for by unemployment. These are not the intended purposes of unemployment. The extra burden of undeserved unemployment benefits hurts the jobseekers on unemployment by making it harder for them to find a job.

Knowing that these bad actors exist -— and that these benefits add to their costs for years — employers hesitate to hire. We should encourage employers to take chances on people, not wait until they find the perfect person.

In addition to opportunity, jobs vary in their compatibility. A job that allows you to work convenient or flexible hours has value greater beyond the hourly pay. Maybe it saves on childcare, or it’s just the work you prefer to do.

Jobs also provide dignity. Seeing the results of our effort is a fundamental human desire. I once toured a prison where I learned the first punishment for bad behavior was taking away an inmate’s job.

Right now we’re keeping too many people out of work in Connecticut. Since last Labor Day, 7,000 more people are looking for work here.

Let’s help people find work close to home instead of leaving or losing the ability to provide for themselves. Let’s give them hope. Let’s get them working.

This column originally appeared in the Lakeville Journal.


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