State's jobless rate highest in 31 years
By Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Greg Wiles
Hawai'i's unemployment rate jumped to 7.1 percent in March as the number of people without jobs more than doubled over the past year.
Figures released by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations also show joblessness on the Big Island and Kaua'i reached double-digit percentages, with one in 10 people in the workforce on those islands without jobs.
The state's most serious economic downturn in at least four decades is showing up in unemployment rolls with 45,850 people out of work in March. The 7.1 percent seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was the worst in 31 years, dating back to February 1978.
Besides more people signing up for unemployment benefits and looking for work, the rising number of jobless individuals is resulting in more people willing to take temporary work. There were 19,400 fewer nonfarm jobs available in March compared with a year earlier.
"We've seen an increase in the number of people open to doing temporary work," said Jennifer Murphy, director of recruitment for the Honolulu office of Adecco Personnel Services.
She said she's noticed a lot of former mortgage brokers seeking work, while the types of jobs that employers offer have shifted from a year ago. For example, it's easier to find work as a bankruptcy or family law attorney these days than other types of legal work available when the economy was humming along.
During the month, 236 people were thrown out of work when the Hawaii Superferry was forced to shut down. Another notable closure was the shuttering of Aaron's Atop the Ala Moana, a 25-year-old restaurant that decided to shut down rather than renew its lease.
Unemployment also more than doubled or almost doubled on all islands, with joblessness crossing the 10 percent threshold on a nonseasonally adjusted basis on the Big Island (10.2 percent) and Kaua'i (10.3 percent).
It was 8.9 percent on Maui, 12.7 percent on Moloka'i and 9.1 percent on Lana'i.
The lowest rate in the state was on O'ahu, where 5.8 percent of the workforce was without a job. Though lower than the Neighbor Islands, unemployment was still high enough last month to bring out 8,100 job seekers for 160 new jobs at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
Nationally, Hawai'i's rate was the 19th lowest among states and well below the 8.5 percent average rate for the country. Michigan was the highest at 12.6 percent, with seven other states having unemployment rates of 10 percent or more.
North Dakota had the lowest rate at 4.2 percent.
Hawai'i's had been the 15th lowest in the country in February, when the unemployment rate was 6.5 percent.
The state's ranking among other states has been rising over the past 27 months. In December 2006, Hawai'i had the lowest joblessness rate in the country at 2.2 percent.
MORE PAY OPEN TO UNEMPLOYED
Hawai'i's unemployed workers may now be eligible for an additional 13 weeks of benefits, giving out-of-work people more than a year of jobless pay if they cannot find new work.
The additional benefits paid for by the federal government mean people qualifying for the unemployment pay can now get up to 59 weeks of benefits.
The additional pay could assist about 5,000 residents who've exhausted the allotment, including those who were left jobless by the shutdown of Aloha Airlines a year ago.
The additional federal help has been available in states with high unemployment. Hawai'i qualified for the added payments by averaging 6 percent unemployment during the past three months. January's rate was 6.1 percent, followed by 6.5 percent in February and 7.1 percent in March.
Prior to qualifying for the extended federal help, unemployed people could qualify for 26 weeks of benefits from the state unemployment fund, plus another 20 weeks available under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
To be eligible for the newest benefits, people have to exhaust the first extended benefits of 20 weeks prior to Dec. 31.
They also may not qualify for a new claim and have to meet eligibility criteria including registration for work, being able and available for work and having an active job search.
The state Labor Department said it would mail out notices to people who may qualify for the new extended benefits. It said the first payable week for this second tier of extended benefits is the week ending May 9.
Reach Greg Wiles at firstname.lastname@example.org.