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State jobless rate dips to 6.5%

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    The unemployment rate in Hawaii dropped to 6.5 percent in January, the third consecutive decline. Above, people attend a job fair at Blaisdell Center.

Hawaii’s job market started out the year on a positive note with the unemployment rate dropping to 6.5 percent in January from 6.6 percent in December on a seasonally adjusted basis, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported Monday.

The decline was the third consecutive drop and pushed the level of unemployment to its lowest level since February 2009 when it was 6.4 percent, department officials said. The rate compared with a national average of 8.3 percent in January.

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization is forecasting the statewide unemployment rate to average 6.2 percent this year and 5.5 percent in 2013. As recently as 2006 the rate averaged 2.5 percent.

The falling unemployment rate has been accompanied by a steady decline in the number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance. The number of new claims filed during the first week of March totaled 1,852, down 13.5 percent from the same week a year earlier. The total number of workers collecting unemployment insurance fell by 9 percent to 14,252.

Unemployment claims continue to fall despite the recent closing of Hawaii Medical Center’s hospitals in Ewa and Li­liha, said Dwight Taka­mine, labor director.

"While tourism is fueling our overall recovery, the ongoing expansion of the business sector and the precipitous drop in initial unemployment and total weeks claimed clearly indicates the positive momentum moving our economy forward," Taka­mine said.

The unemployment rate is adjusted for seasonal variations, such as temporary hiring during the holiday shopping season.

On an unadjusted basis Hawaii’s jobless rate rose to 6.4 percent in January from 6.2 percent in December.

Around the state the unadjusted rate rose to 5.7 percent in Hono­lulu in January from 5.4 percent in December. It rose to 9.4 percent from 8.9 percent in Hawaii County and to 8.3 percent from 7.4 percent in Kauai County. In Maui County it was unchanged at 7.1 percent.

The unemployment rate is derived largely from a telephone survey of households. A separate survey of businesses showed that the number of nonfarm payroll jobs in Hawaii fell by 1,700 in January from December but rose by 4,400 from January 2011.

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