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Isles’ unemployment rate dropped to 6 percent in May

Kristen Consillio
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Fewer people had to make their way to the unemployment office on Punchbowl Street as the jobless rate in Hawaii fell last month to its lowest level since January 2009.
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More Hawaii residents were employed in May, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said Wednesday, bringing the jobless rate to the lowest level in nearly 2 1⁄2 years.

Hawaii’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6 percent last month — matching the January 2009 rate — and down from 6.1 percent in April.

The rate had been stalled at 6.3 percent for four months before that and was as high as 7 percent from mid-2009 through the end of 2009 during the economic downturn, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The steady drop indicates greater confidence in the general economy as businesses resume expansion plans shelved during the recession. Increased economic activity is expected to boost job growth by 1.8 percent, or 10,700 positions, this year, the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism said last month.

"As we’re seeing IT (information technology) budgets opening up and as we see companies moving forward with initiatives they put on hold, that is in turn driving business for us," said Jeremy Amen, chief executive officer of Wavecom Solutions Corp., a technology and communications firm that plans to increase its 75-employee work force this year.

McDonald’s of Hawaii hired more than 400 people in May, after receiving more than 4,000 applications to fill about 1,000 positions by year’s end, said Melanie Okazaki, marketing manager.

"New customers are coming more often. Because of that we’re growing our business and because of that we have opportunities for people who are looking for jobs," she said. "We’re optimistic about our business. This is the first time we had a concerted effort regarding hiring efforts."

The Walt Disney Co. also increased hiring efforts last month in an attempt to enlist most of the 800 workers needed for its Aulani Resort in West Oahu opening Aug. 29.

"We’re happy that the timing of Aulani is proving to be helpful to the state’s employment numbers," said Todd Apo, the resort’s director of public affairs.

The state labor department said there were 597,000 employed and 38,100 unemployed in May, for a total seasonally adjusted work force of 635,100. 8.2 percent.

Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 9.1 percent in May from 9 percent in April.

Surf Paws Animal Hospital, which opened last month in Hawaii Kai and hired half a dozen workers, plans to double its work force by year’s end as confidence in the economy continues to improve.

"I’ve seen a lot more businesses opening around the time we were opening," said part-owner Joem Costes.

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