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Economist: No Immediate Downturn From Delta Variant

Screenshot from Hawaii House of Representatives
University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization presented data on the current state of Hawaiʻi's economy on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021

COVID cases are up in Hawaiʻi due to the delta variant of the coronavirus, but current data shows it is not having an immediate effect on the economy.

“Right now there's no sign in the high frequency data that we're tracking of a market slowdown of any kind associated with delta," said Carl Bonham, an economist and executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. He spoke at an informational briefing for the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness.

"There has been a jump in people searching for COVID on Google, but mobility data has not retraced, it has not gone down," he said. "People are not going to restaurants less, at least according to OpenTable data. There's been no sudden drop off in activity.”

The House Select Committee on COVID-19 last met in March and includes legislators, business and community leaders.

Bonham said the visitor recovery has surprised everyone and the numbers surpassed UHERO's previous forecasts.

However, while the visitor numbers have rebounded, the jobs recovery is only about 40% complete. Around May 2020, Hawaii lost 153,000 jobs. Bonham said the state is still down 94,000 jobs.

Bonham said there had been hope of a "Goldilocks" situation: as federal stimulus started to wane, the economy would be gaining momentum. But with federal relief funds dwindling and the eviction moratorium lifting this week, unemployment and underemployment is still an issue.

While COVID cases rise, there are no signs that the economy will come to a halt.

"As of now, we don't have a prediction that delta is going to cause a market slowdown in the economy,” Bonham said, adding that people are not retrenching because people know how to deal with the surge - get vaccinated, wear masks and socially distance.

COV Informational Briefing - Mon Aug 2, 2021 @ 10AM

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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