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Poll shows slice of optimism about Hawaii’s economy

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Local economists informed Hawaii residents in May that the state economy won’t likely recover from COVID-19 impacts for more than two years, but a lot of Oahu residents disagree.

A poll conducted last week suggests that about a quarter of Oahu’s general population expects that Hawaii’s economy will return to “normal” within a year.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii Poll carried out by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy said 24% of those surveyed hold this view, which suggests that close to 185,000 Oahu adults are pretty optimistic about a short-term economic rebound for the state.

Within this group, 16% expect the rebound will take seven to 12 months, 6% anticipate a full recovery in four to six months and 2% believe the local economy will return to normal within three months.

A large majority, 71%, took a long-term view, expecting it will be more than a year for Hawaii to regain the economic health it had prior to the novel coronavirus spreading — in line with forecasts by local economists.

“It’s a consumer economy, and if we’re not out there spending, then the economy won’t recover,” said Dexter Young.

The Pearl City resident, who took the survey and holds the long-term recovery view, said part of the trouble is that so many people have lost wages and aren’t spending normally, which in turn hurts businesses and their ability to pay workers.

“It’s a crazy Catch-22,” he said.

Kimberly Won of Waipahu said Hawaii’s economy can’t possibly return to normal without a rebound in its biggest industry, tourism.

It’s hard for Won to imagine tons people from the mainland or foreign countries wanting to travel here anytime soon, especially while the pandemic is worsening in many places, including the mainland and Hawaii.

“I think I’m more of a pessimist,” she said, agreeing with the majority of poll respondents that the local economy will take more than a year to recover.

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization published a forecast in May that Hawaii’s gross domestic product, a broad measure of the economy representing the value of all goods and services, will have gained much lost ground by 2022 but still be about $600 million short of what it was in 2019 — $96.7 billion compared with $97.3 billion.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism published a worse forecast in May, with GDP being $800 million less in 2023 than in 2019.

Several key aspects of the local economy — visitor arrivals, unemployment and personal income — are forecast to still be lagging 2019 levels in 2022 or 2023, according to UHERO and DBEDT.

These economic forecasts were produced in May when Hawaii was having some days with no new corona- virus cases, and many businesses were reopening or preparing to reopen after being cloistered due to COVID-19. This month, new case counts have surged and hit a single-day record last week.

The new Hawaii Poll by Mason-Dixon included two other questions related to Hawaii’s economy.

One asked Oahu residents about concern for the local economy, and responses show there is a lot of worry.

About half the respondents, 53%, said they are “very” worried. Another 32% said they are “somewhat” worried, while 11% said “not too” worried. Just 3% said they aren’t worried at all.

The other question solicited from each respondent whether they or anyone in their family had been laid off or furloughed from work due to the coronavirus-related economic downturn. The split was 37% yes and 63% no.

The Hawaii Poll was conducted July 20-22 by telephone and included results from 625 registered voters on Oahu selected at random.

Mason-Dixon said there is a 95% probability that results would be within 4 percentage points if all registered voters on Oahu were surveyed.

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