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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 11, 2010

Isles' jobless rate stays near 30-year high

 •  1 in 6 in Hawaii lacking full-time work

BY Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer

The start of 2010 brought little change to the Hawai'i's unemployment rate, with the jobless rates lingering around three-decade-old highs that may not go down soon.

The state Department of Labor yesterday reported the seasonally adjusted jobless rate in January rising slightly from the month before to 6.9 percent.

Hawai'i's unemployment rates have been at levels not seen since the late 1970s because of an economic downturn that's forced employers to shed workers. For the past 10 months, Hawai'i's unemployment has ranged between 6.8 percent and 7.0 percent, according to revised rates posted by the state yesterday.

"It's not going to go down right away," said Darwin Ching, Labor Department director.

"Once the recession hits bottom, all the economists agree it's going to take a little bit of time to get out of it."

The University of Hawai'i Economics Research Organization has forecast unemployment will be more than 7 percent this year, in part because employers typically hold off on hiring until a recovery is well under way.

Ching said it could be 10 to 18 months before the state sees significant declines in unemployment. Others are more hopeful, given some small signs of economic improvement.

At Bishop & Co., a Honolulu employment agency, there has been a slight uptick in companies seeking workers.

"It's minor, but it is noticeable," said owner Judy Bishop. "It seems like companies are starting to say 'Hmmmm, we need to hire somebody.' "

She said that in general, it seems like the hiring is being done to replace people, and is not for new positions. But still ,that's a change from people holding off on hiring.

"A lot of times over the last year, when someone had somebody leave, they didn't replace them," Bishop said.

In January, Hawai'i had the 10th-lowest unemployment nationally, and its 6.9 percent rate was well below the national average of 9.7 percent. Hawai'i's rate was also less than half the unemployment in Michigan, which continued to lead the nation in joblessness, at 14.3 percent.

The report still provides a sobering look at unemployment here, which as recently as three years ago had been at 2.3 percent, or one- third of the first month of 2010's number.

In January, there were 43,450 people counted as unemployed in the Islands, or about the population of Hilo.

Figures also released by the Department of Labor yesterday show unemployment rose across the state on a nonseasonally adjusted basis compared to January 2009. This included:

• Honolulu's unemployment rising to 6.0 percent from 5.2 percent a year earlier.

• The Big Island rate jumping to 9.9 percent. A year earlier, it was 8.2 percent.

• Kaua'i's rate of 9.1 percent rising 0.3 percentage points.

• The island of Maui's rate increasing 1.2 percentage points over a year's time to 8.5 percent.

• Lāna'i registering the lowest increase during the year, going from 8.2 percent in January 2009 to 8.3 percent in January 2010.

• Moloka'i having the worst rate in the state, at 15.0 percent. A year earlier, it was 11.8 percent.

The Labor Department said Hawai'i's revised annual rate was 6.8 percent for 2009, or the 12th-lowest nationally.

That compared with 2008's rate of 4.0 percent, or ninth- lowest.

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