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Hawaii debuts jobs program that matches displaced workers with new employers

Hawaii’s unemployment rate, tied for the third worst in the nation at 12.5%, has prompted the state to launch a jobs program that will provide businesses with up to 650 workers who have been displaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonprofit organizations, the private sector and state government are teaming up to use $10 million in federal CARES Act funding that was secured with the help of the state’s Congressional delegation and disbursed locally through an appropriation by the state Legislature.

“We are grateful to all those who helped Hawai‘i obtain these federal funds and build an innovative program that supports our local businesses and keeps Hawai‘i residents employed,” Gov. David Ige said Friday in a statement. “This is a great example of how we can pull together during difficult times and rise to the challenges facing our economy from the pandemic.”

The state’s jobless rate — still historically high — continues to improve and fell in August for the third time in four months to a seasonally adjusted 12.5%, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. However, Hawaii is significantly higher than the U.S. rate of 8.4% and trails just Nevada, 13.2%, and Rhode Island, 12.8%, for the highest rate in the nation. New York is also at 12.5%. By contrast, Hawaii was at just 2.4% in March.

“Although Hawaii has a decrease in its unemployment rate, our economic recovery is still falling behind,” Eugene Tian, chief economist for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said in an interview. “DBEDT’s projection for the year is for a monthly average of 10.9%. We’ll still be in double digits.”

The August unemployment rate would have marked the state’s fourth consecutive monthly drop, but Hawaii revised upward its July number to 13.5% from its previously reported 13.1%. Still the jobless rate has been on a downward trend since the pandemic began, when it hit an all-time high of 23.8% in April and 23.5% in May. The number was 13.4% in June before ticking up to 13.5% in July.

Statewide, the number of people employed rose by 5,150, to 557,200, while the number of unemployed declined by 6,400, to 79,700. The labor force, however, shrunk by 1,200, to 636,900, as people got discouraged and stopped looking for work or were afraid of contracting the coronavirus, said Tian, noting that the decreased labor force helped the unemployment rate look better.

The Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits continued to decline and were down 21.2% in August from the previous month while weekly claims dropped by 3.3% over the same period.

Nonfarm payroll jobs, which are calculated from a mail survey of employers and are a better indicator of job growth because of a larger sample size, decreased by 1,300 in August from July and year over year were down by 105,200. The construction sector lost 1,300 jobs in August from July, the most of any category.

The unemployment rate improved in the state’s four major counties in August from the previous month. State and national labor force data is adjusted for seasonal factors, but the county jobs data is not seasonally adjusted and thus does not take into account variations such as the winter holiday and summer vacation seasons.

Honolulu County’s jobless rate fell to 10.6% from 11.5%, Hawaii County’s rate fell to 11.8% from 13.1%, Kauai County’s rate dropped to 17.8% from 19.1% and Maui County’s rate declined to 20.7% from 21.8%. In Maui County, Maui’s rate fell to 21.4% from 22.6% and Molokai’s rate dropped to 6.9% from 8.1%, but Lanai’s rate rose to 8.6% from 4.6%.

DBEDT said the jobs program was a collaborative effort as it worked with all the partners to pull the program together. The state agency contracted with Kupu, a conservation and youth education nonprofit, and Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii, an economic development nonprofit, to implement the workforce development initiative.

There will be two tracks to the job program: “Kupu ‘Aina Corps” run by Kupu and “Aloha Connects Innovation” run by EDAH. The program will match displaced workers with companies in emerging industries and Aloha+ Challenge sectors such as conservation, renewable energy, agriculture, creative arts, aerospace, entrepreneurship, and STEM fields. The Aloha+ Challenge is a statewide commitment to achieve the state’s sustainability goals, and locally driven framework to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The program will create internship opportunities to provide temporary employment while diversifying and strengthening Hawaii’s economy.

“We are excited to create some options for those who are currently unemployed and want to seek a different career path,” Kupu CEO John Leong said in a statement. “These positions will provide on-the-job experience, healthcare, and relevant educational or training opportunities for upward mobility beyond the first phase. The skills learned here will be essential tools for a resilient Hawai‘i.”

The program’s positions will offer:

>> Two-and-a-half to three months of on-the-job training to Dec. 15.

>> Wages starting at $13-$15 an hour.

>> Health care benefits.

>> Introduction and mentoring within the emerging, innovation sectors.

>> Workforce training.

After the on-the-job training, individuals ideally will be hired at the sites they are placed at or within the network of their organization, pursue careers in the emerging, innovation sector, or continue with higher education, DBEDT said.

“These emerging industries represent the future of economic growth for Hawai‘i,” EDAH Chair Jeanne Skog said in a statement. “This program will provide displaced workers and recent graduates with opportunities to do critical work for our state, diversify their skillset, and provide organizations and companies a resource for revival. This program provides an opportunity for faster recovery and allows us to create a more diverse and resilient economy.”

Eligible participants will be displaced workers, recent college graduates and recent high school graduates.

Interested participant applicants and companies interested in hosting participants can apply for the innovation track through the EDAH website at and the conservation track through Kupu’s website at


Hawaii’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for each month this year:

January 2.7%

February 2.7%

March 2.4%

April 23.8%

May 23.5%

June 13.4%

July 13.5%

August 12.5%

Source: State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

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