By Sally Apgar
Advertiser Staff Writer
For a second consecutive month, Hawaiis jobless rate remained at its lowest in nine years and held below the national average, a sign that the states economic recovery is strengthening.
Economists view a low unemployment rate as one of the strongest signs of economic health. In December, Hawaiis jobless rate was 3.6 percent, a slight change from the 3.7 percent reported for November, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations monthly employment survey of Island households.
The state rate has improved significantly from a year ago, when it was 4.4 percent. Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate for December was 3.7 percent.
For the year, the states unemployment rate was 4.3 percent compared to 5.6 percent for 1999.
Another encouraging sign for the state economy was 2.2 percent growth in jobs for December and 1.9 percent growth in jobs for the year.
"This is the fastest rate of job growth since 1991," said Christopher Grandy, an economist with the state.
He said "the concern is whats going to happen on the Mainland with a possible recession. But right now, these numbers are pretty encouraging."
The states jobless rate for November was the lowest in nine years. In addition, it was the first month since March 1995 that the states unemployment rate had been lower than the U.S. rate. Back then, the state rate was 5.5 percent and the national one was 5.7 percent.
With the exception of Kauai, where the jobless rate rose from 5.5 percent in November to 6.8 percent in December, the other three counties saw little change from November.
Overall, state officials reported jobs rose in the services sector, trade, government and the combined transportation, communication and utilities industries. Job rates were relatively unchanged in construction, manufacturing and the combined finance, insurance and real estate industries.
The state reported that during November and December, many of the job gains over December "were primarily seasonal." For example, in the trade sector, there was an increase of 1,500 retail jobs to meet the needs of the holiday season. The state reported that eating and drinking businesses, the only segment of the trade sector to lose jobs, lost 200 positions.
Seasonal hirings of temporary workers by the Postal Service, University of Hawaii and the state Department of Education boosted the number of government jobs by 1,700.
Greater tourism activity on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island increased the number of hotel jobs by 400.
December unemployment rates by county:
Honolulus was 3.2 percent, compared to 3.9 percent in December 1999.
The Big Islands was 5.5 percent, compared to 6.0 percent in December 1999.
Kauais was 6.8 percent, compared to 7.3 percent in December 1999.
Maui Countys was 3.3 percent, compared to 4.4 percent in December 1999.
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