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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hawaii gains jobs again in March, unemployment steady

BY Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's employment numbers are starting to show gains.

Figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday show the number of people in Hawai'i with jobs grew for a second month after 20 straight months of declines.

Many economists say unemployment can increase as a recovery starts because people who've been too discouraged by the lack of jobs come back into the labor market. In this case, the number of people finding jobs grew just enough to keep Hawai'i's unemployment rate from rising.

It remained at 6.9 percent for the third consecutive month on a seasonally adjusted basis. Hawai'i's unemployment rate was the eighth lowest nationally and compared with the national rate of 9.7 percent during March.

Economist Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economics said the return of people into the labor force is consistent with the beginning of a recovery.

"That's a fit," he said. "In the early stages of economic recovery the discouraged-worker phenomenon starts to abate."

The figures show Hawai'i's labor force, the number of workers employed or looking for work, has grown by almost 3,270 people since reaching the 20-month low of 633,401 in January.

The number of employed has grown by almost 3,100, with 592,871 having jobs in March.

Brewbaker said the rate of employment growth was still quite low and that he expected the low job absorption of unemployed to continue.

He said Hawai'i's recovery is forecast to be gradual and won't snap back as quickly as some states where manufacturing jobs are expected to grow as consumer spending jumps.

"We'll be in this kind of configuration for a while."

Hawai'i's unemployment rate has been in the 6.8 percent to 7.0 percent range for the past year, the highest level since 1978.

The 6.9 percent rate in March compared with 6.6 percent a year earlier.

Other figures released yesterday were for unemployed throughout the state on a seasonally unadjusted basis. Such data should not be compared on a month-over-month basis.

But it can be weighed against the same month a year earlier. On this basis, unemployment on all islands increased except for Lāna'i.

This included:

• Honolulu's seasonally unadjusted rate was 5.6 percent, compared with 5.5 percent in March 2009.

• Hawai'i County had a 0.6 percentage point increase, to 10.1 percent over a year's time.

• Maui Island's rate was 8.8 percent. A year earlier it was 8.5 percent.

• Moloka'i had the state's highest unemployment at 12.5 percent, or 1.1 percentage points higher than in March a year earlier.

• Lāna'i's unemployment rate narrowed to 6.6 percent from 8.3 percent.

Michigan had the nation's highest unemployment rate in March 14.1 percent. North Dakota, at 4 percent, had the nation's lowest rate.

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