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Unemployment rate dips to 5.2 percent in Honolulu

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Honolulu’s job market continued to stabilize in February as the unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent from 5.4 percent in January, according to a report released yesterday.

February’s unemployment rate was up from 4.8 percent in December when holiday retail hiring helped create a bump in employment.

Honolulu’s rate in February compared with a statewide rate of 6.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The data are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

Unemployment on Oahu has been slowly falling since hitting a cyclical peak of 6.2 percent in August 2009 during the economic downturn. The rate had been as low as 1.8 percent in December 2006 before the recession.

The rate in February was good enough to tie Honolulu with Portsmouth, N.H., for the eighth-lowest rate of 372 metropolitan areas the bureau surveyed.

Hawaii’s job growth through the past year has been strongest in the hospitality industry, while white-collar jobs have lagged, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Officials at ProService Hawaii, a Human Resources administration firm, said they are seeing some stabilization in employment with businesses they serve.

“We’re seeing some cautious optimism working its way into the white-collar sector,” said Dustin Sellers, president of business development and marketing for ProService.

However, the gains have been incremental and have largely been the result of hiring for part-time positions, he said. It may take another 16 to 18 months before significant full-time hiring occurs in the professional services sector, Sellers added.

Honolulu’s labor force stood at 443,713 in February, up from 440,968 in January. The number of employed grew to 420,458 from 417,359 while the number of unemployed fell to 23,255 from 23,609, the bureau reported.

The unemployment rate is derived from a telephone survey of households. A separate survey of businesses showed that there were 441,900 non-agricultural jobs in Honolulu in February, up from 435,900 jobs in January.

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