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One-In-Five Hawaii Workers Are Unemployed, Underemployed, Or Have Quit Looking

Noe Tanigawa
Hawai'i Public Radio

Using the a broad assessment of the labor market called the U6 unemployment rate, almost 20% of Hawaii workers are not fully employed.

Hawaii’s economic recovery is showing signs of stalling after several months of improvement.

At 9.3%, Hawaii’s official unemployment rate remains the highest in the country, slightly ahead of tourism-heavy Nevada.

That represents a substantial decline from April of 2020, when one-quarter of Hawaii workers were jobless.

However, pushing that number below its current level will be difficult, according to University of Hawaii economist Carl Bonham, because many local businesses are still struggling to get by.

“There is really no reason to add additional employees back in because the ones who are back at work, many are working part time, they’re not fully employed and the business aren’t making enough money to justify bringing additional workers back on,” Bonham said at recent hearing. 

He noted that situation likely would not change significantly until visitor spending increased.

Bonham also cautioned that declines in the official unemployment rate, known as U3, may be deceiving. That statistical measure does not count workers who have stopped looking for new jobs or can only find part time work.

Bonham says that 19.4% of Hawaii workers now fall into that category, known as the U6 unemployment rate. That represents higher level than Hawaii experienced at any point during the Great Recession period.

Lawmakers in the State House will consider a measure on Tuesday aimed at boosting the local visitor industry.

House Bill 1286 would set a statewide standard for Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program. Currently, counties can add additional restrictions at the local level.

Linda Ichiyama, who chairs the House Committee on Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness, described the aim of the bill at a hearing on Monday.

“Create one safe travels program statewide, with a pretest three days prior to travel. If you don’t have your results in hand when you arrive, you can take a rapid test at the airport and then another test three days later, in order not to be subject to the ten day quarantine,” she explained.

Although that may provide some short term support, health experts and economists agree that the only long term solution to Hawaii’s economic crisis is widespread vaccination in the U.S. and around the world.

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