Isle jobless rate dips to 6.7%
By Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer
The state's employment and jobless pictures brightened last month as unemployment fell to its lowest level in more than a year.
Figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show Hawai'i's unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, down from 6.9 percent in March.
"It is very good news," said Lawrence "Bill" Boyd, a labor economist at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu. "It is better news than I expected."
The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate had been in the 6.8 percent to 7 percent range for the past year, with jobless figures reaching highs not seen in 32 years. In recent months there was speculation that the rate might increase as people who had been discouraged about job prospects re-entered the labor force because of a perceived upturn in Hawai'i's economic prospects.
The report released yesterday shows the labor market improved on a number of fronts as 1,600 jobs were added, helped by federal stimulus spending and a rebound in the visitor trade.
Among the highlights:
• The number of people in non-farm jobs increased for a third consecutive month after job counts reached a 5 1/4-year low in January.
"Basically 6,000 jobs have been created since January," Boyd said.
• The number of jobs in April totaled 590,300 — the highest since June 2009.
• The number of people without jobs — 42,569 — was the lowest in 13 months.
• The statewide unemployment rate was lower on a year-over-year basis, or less than the 6.8 percent in April 2009. It was first time in three years that the rate was lower than the prior year's level.
• Hawai'i's unemployment rate tied it with Louisiana and New Hampshire for seventh-lowest in the nation. The U.S. unemployment rate was 9.9 percent.
"We're still well below the national average," said Ryan Markham, a state Labor Department spokesman. "We're hoping this will be a trend."
EFFECT OF STIMULUS
The April numbers were buoyed by hiring in the tourism industry, which added jobs for a third consecutive month. During April, the leisure and hospitality component of the jobs survey showed an increase of 1,300 people compared with March.
Boyd said Hawai'i's workers also have benefited from the federal stimulus programs. The most recent data for the federal stimulus program show the spending saved or created 2,652 jobs during the January-to-March quarter.
"On the whole, this is a very good jobs report, but I do expect the (unemployment) rate will rise as people come back into the labor force," Boyd said.
Some economists also project unemployment will rise this year because so-called discouraged workers who gave up looking for jobs are not being counted as part of the labor force and don't figure in computing the unemployment rate.
If the recovery follows past patterns, increasing numbers of those unemployed people are expected to return to the job market and look for work, raising the jobless rate. Moreover, there is little sign that the construction industry has begun a recovery. It lost 1,200 jobs last month.
Markham said Gov. Linda Lingle's administration is using federal stimulus funds to expand a summer youth employment program and fund a program that helps employers offset health care insurance costs when hiring off unemployment rolls.
COUNTY BY COUNTY
Other figures released yesterday show Honolulu continues to have a jobless rate well below the statewide average. It had a 5.2 percent unemployment rate on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.
Other county rates:
• Hawai'i County increased to 9.5 percent. A year earlier it was at 9.2 percent.
• Kaua'i's unemployment was 8.9 percent, or 0.4 percentage points lower than a year earlier.
• Maui island's rate of 8.3 percent was unchanged from April 2009.
• Moloka'i's rate fell to 11.8 percent from 13.1 percent a year earlier.
• Lāna'i's unemployment was the lowest of all Neighbor Islands, at 6.0 percent.