Catalyst Endowment Fund Members Discuss Family Economic Security at First Meeting of 2017

Approximately 85 members and guests attended the first meeting of the 2017 Catalyst Endowment Fund at the Glastonbury Boathouse on March 30 to begin exploring this year’s theme, “Family Economic Security: Career Pathways.”

Hartford Foundation interim president Yvette Meléndez welcomed the group and discussed the impact Catalyst’s grantmaking has had in the community, including informing extensive investment by the Hartford Foundation in topics such as adult literacy. Meléndez discussed the Foundation’s Career Pathways Initiative, a nearly $4 million commitment in collaborative efforts between nonprofits, employers, higher education and state agencies focused on nine collaborative projects throughout the region. The initiative specifically targets low-skill, low-literate adults connecting them to a variety of support services, education, job training and job placement.

Catalyst Steering Committee chair Kathleen Costello shared a report on the Fund’s activities in 2016 and its plans for 2017. Carol Dupuis, member of the Catalyst steering committee, encouraged more Catalyst members to consider serving on the steering committee, whose role includes generating program ideas, reviewing and evaluating grant proposals, recommending prospective new members, and advising the Foundation staff on issues and logistics that help develop the Catalyst programs. There are three openings on the steering committee this year.

Costello introduced the evening’s keynote speaker Patrick Flaherty, assistant director for research and information at the Connecticut Department of Labor, who provided an overview of Connecticut’s current and projected labor market and specific information about areas of growth and decline in the region’s workforce.

According to Flaherty, overall unemployment rates have been falling and openings are at a record high.  While this would generally be seen as positive news, many of the available openings are low-wage jobs that don’t pay family-sustaining wages.  Healthcare and manufacturing are the leading employers in our region. In the case of healthcare, many of the higher paying jobs in hospitals and nursing homes are being replaced by lower-skilled, lower-paying home care jobs. In manufacturing, lower paying jobs are being replaced by higher paying jobs, but they require more training and education. 

Flaherty also touched upon the demographics and leading drivers of the job market in Greater Hartford. While many people point to the importance of small businesses as primary job creators, in this region larger employers continue to be the leading employers.  While other regions throughout the country have seen a resurgence of economic activity in their cities, in Greater Hartford, suburban towns employ more people. Another concern is that school enrollment has been contracting. Connecticut is seeing its residents age at the same time there are significant declines in births. If these trends continue, there will be 60,000 fewer elementary school age children in the state by 2030, which will lead to fewer employable residents not long after.

Even if proposals to substantially increase the minimum wage were enacted, Flaherty doubts that would be enough to lift people out of poverty in an expensive state like Connecticut. For this reason, he believes greater effort should be made to provide low-wage workers with additional education and training that would allow them to obtain higher wage jobs and greater opportunities for advancement.  One positive development is the increased availability of public transportation options such as CT Fastrak, which makes it easier for people without access to a car to get to and from work.  Flaherty also expressed skepticism about recent efforts to attract and retain Millennials, as these efforts might take so long that Millennials will have started families and will share more in common with their older peers. 

Following his formal presentation, Flaherty fielded a number of questions from the audience including a question about how Millennials are different from previous generations. His response was that although many younger workers tend to be attracted to larger urban settings, many Millennials are getting married and starting families later; they may follow previous generations by choosing to come back to Connecticut and settle down in a suburban community, attracted by the state’s high quality life.  Another question related to the numbers of people working part time versus full time jobs. Flaherty said that this was an issue right after the recession, but the bigger challenge today is lack of growth in wages. Other questions included the number of people who were self-employed, and potential opportunities with the best chance to improve people’s access to good paying jobs.

The program ended with small table discussions. Some related to the Foundation’s existing Career Pathways Initiative and whether these activities might benefit from additional supports from Catalyst. Others talked about the need to provide young people with exposure to real work experiences such as through internships and working with entrepreneurs.

The Catalyst Endowment Fund will hold its second program of the year on June 20, 2017 at the Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford.  Please contact Betty Ann Grady at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving ( or 860-548-1888) for more information.