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Isle unemployment rate remains flat at 6 percent

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Source: Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

Hawaii’s job market continued to tread water in June with the unemployment rate unchanged at 6 percent from May, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported Thursday.

The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate is among the lowest in the country, but improvement in the job market has been relatively slow.

Unemployment peaked at 7 percent in the summer of 2009 as the recession was winding down, and has been hovering between 6.3 percent and 6.0 percent this year.

The University of Hawaii Research Organization is forecasting the unemployment rate to average 6 percent this year before falling to 5.3 percent in 2012. The rate was as low as 2.3 percent before the recession struck in late 2007.

Although some employers remain cautious about aggressively adding to their payrolls, others — particularly those looking for skilled workers — have accelerated hiring, said Liesl Bernard, Hono­lulu branch manager for Robert Half International, a staffing firm that specializes in professional services.

"We’re finding that some business in Hawaii, especially with APEC coming up and all the activity it will bring, are very optimistic about next quarter. Staffing for skilled positions like financing, accounting, IT and administrative staff are increasing," she said.

There are also more workers trading up for jobs with higher pay and better benefits than previously, she said.

"The demand for skilled workers is much higher. Companies are having to be more competitive with their benefits packages to retain good workers. That’s not the case in many places on the mainland where the unemployment rate is much higher," Bernard said.

Nationally the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent in June from 9.1 percent in May. The unemployment figures are adjusted for seasonal variations such as an increase in college and high school students looking for work during their summer break.

On an unadjusted basis the unemployment rate in Honolulu County rose to 5.7 percent in June from 4.9 percent in May. The rate rose to 8.1 percent in Maui County from 7.1 percent in May. In Kauai County the rate rose to 9.2 percent from 8.3 percent, and in Hawaii County it rose to 10.6 percent from 9.3 percent.

The unemployment rate is derived from a telephone survey of households. A separate survey of businesses showed that the number of nonagricultural jobs on seasonally adjusted basis fell to 588,500 in June, a drop of 2,000 jobs since May.

The biggest decreases were in the categories of leisure and hospitality (600 jobs), and education and health servicers (500 jobs). The biggest gains were in financial activities (300 jobs) and construction (200 jobs).

The construction industry has had incremental job gains in recent months, but employment is still down more than 25 percent from pre-recession levels.

There were an estimated 29,100 construction jobs statewide in June. Employment in the sector averaged about 40,000 during the fall of 2007 before steadily dropping through the 2008-2009 recession and bottoming out at 28,400 last August.

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