New claims for unemployment compensation on the Big Island dropped last week, while total claims, including repeat filers, remained low. This may be evidence that hiring could be picking up, job seekers have moved elsewhere or people have left the workforce. The exact reasons are unknown, said Bill Kunstman of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Kunstman explained several inputs go into generating unemployment data, including the state’s monthly job counts by industry and a monthly U.S. Census Bureau population survey that asks people about their current employment status.
New claims filed islandwide totaled 321, compared to 371 in the same period of 2011. Of those new claims, 148 were in Kona and 173 were in Hilo. Statewide, such claims decreased by nearly 1 percent, with this week’s total filings of 1,799 and filings during the same week in 2011 of 1,816, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
The total claims on the Big Island came to 2,494 for the week ending Saturday, of which 1,151 were in Kona and 1,343 were in Hilo. During the same period last year, claims islandwide were 3,056, of which 1,440 were in Kona and 1,616 were in Hilo, according to DLIR.
“Overall, this is another reflection that indicates that our state is continuing to recover from the Great Recession,” Kunstman said. “When you examine the statistics pertaining to job growth sector by sector, tourism continues to lead the recovery.”
In comparison with a year ago, employment statewide has expanded by 7,300 jobs, with the largest increases in leisure and hospitality sectors, which rose from 102,600 jobs in May 2011 to 108,300 last month. The next big increase was in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which grew from 111,100 jobs in May 2011 to 113,300 last month, Kunstman said.
The Big Island also experienced job growth in those two sectors during the same time period — 800 leisure and hospitality jobs were added, as well as 400 trade, transportation and utilities jobs. As for construction, jobs remained flat at 2,900, Kunstman said.
As for Hawaii’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, it declined to 6.3 percent in May from 6.6 percent a year ago. A total of 41,400 people statewide were unemployed last month, when the total labor force was 654,000, according to DLIR.
While the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased, it remained unchanged from April. All counties saw stable unemployment rates from April to May and remained relatively unchanged. For example, the Big Island’s rate went from 8.6 percent in April to 8.8 percent in May.
The Big Island’s lowest annual average unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, was 3 percent in 2006, while its lowest monthly rate was 2.1 percent in December 2006. Statewide, the lowest annual average rate was 2.5 percent in 2006, Kunstman said.
Looking toward the future, Kunstman said downward trends in unemployment and job gains are expected across the state.
He mentioned the outlooks produced by UHERO, the economic research organization at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which indicate a “slow and steady economic recovery,” as well as point to Honolulu’s rail transit project, the state’s largest-ever public works project, and big increases in spending on various capital improvement projects as “potential boosts.”
When the economy does recover, Kunstman said generally more hours are given to current employees to respond to increased demand and ensure capacity is saturated before additional workers are hired.