Authorities declared this week that the recession was officially over a year ago, but Hawaii’s job market still has a long way to go to before it returns to full strength.
The state’s unemployment rate held steady at 6.4 percent in August, unchanged from July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported yesterday. July’s rate was revised upward from the previous estimate of 6.3 percent reported by the BLS last month.
While the numbers are an improvement over the 7 percent peak jobless rate reached last summer, they are still a far cry from the pre-recession low of 2.3 percent unemployment recorded in several months in 2006 and 2007.
Another indicator of the health of the job market, attendance at the Job Quest job fair, painted a more optimistic picture for hiring on Oahu. Organizers said 3,500 job seekers attended yesterday’s event at the Neal Blaisdell Center, down from the 5,000 at the previous job fair in May.
"Today’s turnstile count is in keeping with the trend we’ve been seeing of more employers and fewer job seekers," said Beth Busch, president of event organizer Success Advertising. "But it’s hardly an indicator of a strong economy."
The 160 employers that signed up for booths was significantly more than the 105 to 135 that recruited at other job fairs put on by Success Advertising during the past year, Busch said. However, it was well below the record of 240 employers that attended the job fair in May 2008 following a period of historically low unemployment in the 2 percent to 3 percent range.
One of the big draws at the job fair was Swinerton Builders, which has helped insulate itself from the recession by undertaking projects funded by the federal government. Swinerton won the contract for the $65 million renovation of the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Honolulu. The project is being paid for with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Swinerton is also general contractor on a number of other large projects, including the $60 million addition to Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center and an expansion of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza.
Swinerton brought 46 of its subcontractors to the job fair to recruit construction workers in a wide range of trades.
"The private sector isn’t spending much money — they’re holding onto their cash because of the bad economy — but on the federal side there is a lot of work that is coming down the pike," said Rick Moore, vice president and director of community relations for San Francisco-based Swinerton.
"Our volume used to be 75 percent private, 25 percent federal. Now it’s flipped around," he said.
Moore did not have an estimate of how many workers would be hired for Swinerton projects in Hawaii.
Any hiring would be welcomed in the construction sector, which has experienced a steady decline in employment over the past two years. There were an estimated 28,700 workers employed in the construction industry in August, down from the monthly average of 39,100 in 2007, according to data from the BLS.