More than one-third of Hawaii’s labor force has filed unemployment claims, according to the latest state data as the islands effectively shut down large sectors of the economy to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said Thursday that 244,330 claims have been filed since March 1.
Hawaii’s labor force numbered about 660,000 for most of the past year.
Judith Ramirez and her husband are both among those dealing with the stress and uncertainty of not knowing when they’ll be able to resume working.
She is a housekeeper at the Sheraton Waikiki while her husband is an electrician journeyman there. They each filed for unemployment in recent weeks, with some assistance from their union, UNITE HERE Local 5, after the hotel temporarily closed.
Ramirez said she’s most concerned about being able to pay their mortgage and keep their health insurance. She said they can manage covering their utilities.
“I’m worried every night, every day because I don’t know that this COVID or this pandemic will end soon,” Ramirez said.
Her husband has worked for the hotel for 27 years. She has been working there part-time since she gave birth to their younger daughter last year. For now, they will have insurance through the hotel for the next three months because her husband worked the required number of hours to qualify in March. But they don’t know what will happen after that. They are hoping the hotel will extend their coverage.
“We need help so we can beat this together. After all, if this pandemic will end, we can all go back to work and help each other,” she said.
More than 100 hotels have closed across Hawaii as the flow of travelers has slowed to a trickle. Late last month, Hawaii began requiring all travelers to quarantine themselves for 14 days after they arrive. Many retailers and restaurants have also closed to abide by social distancing guidelines.
According to data from the U.S. Employment and Training Administration, the number of unemployment applications submitted in Hawaii last week fell nearly 35% from the previous week to 34,693.
Compared to the same week last year, applications rose 2,975.6%
Hawaii has recorded 541 cases of the disease as of Thursday, including nine people who have died.