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Isle jobless rate remains at record-low 2%

Hawaii’s unemployment rate is holding at its all-time low of 2 percent.

The state’s labor market continued to stay strong as the seasonally adjusted jobless rate in May matched the previous month’s number to remain the lowest in the country, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Nonagricultural jobs rose by 1,800, to 663,400, as the construction sector led the way by adding 600 positions over the month. Professional and business services were next with an additional 500 jobs.

The number of people employed in the labor force rose to a record 672,800 from 671,750 the previous month. Those unemployed fell by 50, to 13,950, its lowest level since there were 13,550 unemployed in November 1989. Hawaii’s labor force, which includes people who are employed, those who are unemployed but actively seeking work and those who are self-­employed, increased by 950, to 686,750, during May.

“Labor market conditions indicate that the economy continues to be on the expansion path,” said Eugene Tian, chief economist for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. “However, with the number of people currently unemployed and still looking for jobs at the lowest level since November 1989, it is difficult for businesses to find workers in the state. Businesses may have to increase wages in order to attract workers from the U.S. mainland.”

The economy has been strengthening nationwide with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting earlier this month that the unemployment rate for the country fell to an 18-year low of 3.8 percent in May from 3.9 percent the previous month.

In Hawaii, which is receiving federal assistance for evacuation victims on the Big Island, there is not enough information available yet to determine what effect the volcanic eruptions and lava spills have had on unemployment, according to DLIR spokesman William Kunstman.

”We’ve seen a modest uptick in (unemployment) claims, but the data isn’t all in yet,” he said. “However, the number of weeks claimed in May was lower than in January, so it’s difficult to ascertain what employment effect the eruption is causing.”

Statewide, the percentage of people who either have given up looking for jobs or ended up with part-time jobs while looking for full-time jobs was at a historical low of 3.4 percent for the period covering the second quarter of 2017 through the first quarter of 2018, according to the DLIR report.

Even with Hawaii’s economy looking strong, the Federal Reserve’s decision Wednesday to raise interest rates by a quarter-point and project four rate increases this year — up from three previously forecast — eventually could affect the state’s growth, Tian said.

“Rising interest rates may have some impact on the mortgage rate and thus impact housing price and home sales,” Tian said. “But the impact is not immediate and it takes time. We may see some impact toward the end of this year if there are any impacts on our real estate market.”

The unemployment rate remained the same in three of the state’s four major counties and rose in the other county. State and national labor-­force data are adjusted for seasonal factors, but the county jobs data are not seasonally adjusted and thus do not take into account variations such as the winter holiday and summer vacation seasons.

Honolulu County’s rate stayed at 1.9 percent from the previous month while Hawaii County’s rate remained at 2.3 percent and Maui County held at 2 percent. Kauai County’s rate rose to 2.1 percent from 1.8 percent. Within Maui County, Maui island’s rate remained at 1.9 percent, Molokai’s rate rose to 5.1 percent from 4.8 percent and Lanai’s rate fell to 1.6 percent from 2 percent.

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