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State’s jobless rate flat at 6.4% as tourism hiring rises

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
    Source: Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations
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Hawaii’s unemployment rate was stuck at 6.4 percent in December, the sixth month in a row at that level.

While there has been hiring in some sectors such as the hospitality industry and federal government, many businesses are making do with their current employees until the economic recovery takes hold more firmly.

"We’ve had quite a bit of stabilization through the second half of 2010 after attrition in 2009 and early 2010, but it hasn’t turned into significant hiring by any means," said Dustin Sellers, president of business development and marketing for ProService Hawaii, a human resources administration firm that represents nearly 1,000 local companies.

"The hiring so far has been more part-time work in hospitality — things like hospitality, food and beverage, catering, lei making and ground transportation," Sellers said. "There will have to be hiring in professional services before we see more traction in the job market — and we haven’t seen it yet."

Hawaii employers have added 3,500 jobs in the visitor industry over the past year, while the federal government has hired 1,000, according to a report released yesterday by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Hawaii’s unemployment rate has held steady at a seasonally adjusted 6.4 percent since July, according to the report. The rate has fallen just six-tenths of a percentage point since the official end of the national recession in June 2009. By comparison, the unemployment rate fell 1.3 percentage points 18 months after the previous recession ended in 2001.

Several companies with ties to the visitor industry said they have been ramping up hiring in the wake of the tourism rebound.

"We had some pretty aggressive hiring in the fourth quarter that started around Halloween time," said Mark Storfer, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Hilo Hattie.

The company hired 36 new employees partly for the holiday season but also in response to improving sales, Storfer said. About 70 percent of the new hires were retained after the holidays.

Maui Divers Jewelry has openings for 15 sales people and three managers, said Bob Taylor, president and CEO.

"Absolutely, we’re hiring. During the recession we went through a pullback. We saw things start to turn around in July, and December was one of our best sales months in years," Taylor said.

Hawaii’s job market has had a particularly difficult time regaining its footing in this recovery because of the severity of the recession, said Lawrence "Bill" Boyd, a labor economist at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu.

Proposals by the state and federal governments to spend $200 million on capital improvements in the coming year, and the ripple effect of that spending, could generate enough job growth to cut the unemployment rate by half a percentage point by year-end, he said.

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