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Isle job market shows life

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June's rate of 6.3 percent is the lowest level in more than a year, but the neighbor islands continue to trail Oahu in job market improvement.

Hawaii’s unemployment rate fell in June to its lowest level in more than a year, but the neighbor islands continued to trail Oahu in terms of job market improvement, according to a new report.

June’s seasonally adjusted rate declined to 6.3 percent from 6.6 percent in May and matched its lowest mark since February 2009, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported yesterday. The statewide numbers are adjusted to account for seasonal variations, such as recent college graduates entering the work force and looking for jobs.

June marked the third consecutive decline in the state’s unemployment rate, which peaked at 7 percent last summer.

Nationally, the jobless rate fell in 39 states and Washington, D.C., as more people gave up searching for work and were no longer counted. The previously reported U.S. unemployment rate for June was 9.5 percent.

In Hawaii, the statewide average was pulled down by the relative strength of the Oahu job market, where the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent. Hawaii County led the state with a 10.4 percent unemployment rate, followed by Kauai County at 9.1 percent and Maui County at 8.5 percent. The county jobless rates are not seasonally adjusted.

The neighbor islands, which had unemployment rates on par with Oahu before the recession broke out in late 2008, have seen their labor markets take a disproportionately large hit in the months since.

"The recession revealed some of the old vulnerabilities with the neighbor islands that were masked during the economic expansion," said Paul Brewbaker, principal of TZ Economics.

"The neighbor islands are more dependent on tourism and real estate investment, and the housing market was at the core of what became the financial crisis," Brewbaker said. "Tourism has always dropped during recessions, but this time we had a couple of airline shutdowns, which really hit the neighbor islands hard."

While the neighbor islands have a "much deeper hole to dig out of, they offer opportunities over the longer term for young families to start fresh, especially on the Big Island where they can do so affordably," Brewbaker added.

Hawaii’s total labor force fell to 636,350 in June from 636,900 in May, according to the report. The number of employed rose to 596,000 from 595,150, while the number of unemployed declined to 40,350 from 41,750.

The labor force data are compiled from a telephone survey of households. A separate survey of businesses showed that the biggest increase in jobs was in the leisure and hospitality industry (200) and in the transportation and utilities sectors (100). Education and health services lost 1,400 jobs, while professional and businesses services lost another 1,200.


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