Unemployment levels decline in February

LIHU‘E — The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in three years.

The February unemployment rate was 6.4 percent, down from 6.5 percent in January. It’s the fourth consecutive monthly drop for the state, bringing the unemployment rate down to February 2009 levels.

Kaua‘i County unemployment, which is not seasonally adjusted, was 7.9 percent in February, down from 8.8 percent over last year and 8.3 percent last month.

National unemployment levels also declined to 8.3 percent from 9 percent last year, but are flat compared to January. The underutilized labor level is 15.9 percent for the country and 15.1 percent for the state.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits in Hawai‘i are down 7 percent compared to a year ago and are down 14 percent compared to last month. Sectors with the greatest gains for the month were education and health services (+1,000), leisure and hospitality (+900), construction (+700), and trade, transportation and utilities (+200).

Since February 2011, nonagricultural jobs have increased in the leisure and hospitality sectors by 4.2 percent, in professional and business services by 1.2 percent and in financial activities by 3.4 percent.

Fourth quarter numbers

The “First Quarter 2012” state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism report on county economic conditions during the fourth quarter of 2011 states that unemployment levels increased in all counties except for Maui.

Kaua‘i’s fourth-quarter unemployment level rose 0.2 percent to 8.5 percent over the previous year. The island lost 450 wage and salary jobs, representing a 1.6 percent decline. The civilian labor force  contracted by 650 jobs, or 2.2 percent. Civilian unemployment levels rose 1.9 percent to 2,600 persons.  

The Kaua‘i food services sector lost 200 jobs (-6.1 percent), construction lost 150 jobs (-9.1 percent), entertainment and recreation lost 100 jobs (-11.1 percent), transportation and warehousing lost 150 jobs (-11.5 percent) and information services lost 100 jobs (-33.3 percent).

Kaua‘i sectors with the greatest year-over-year quarterly gains were financial activities by 50 jobs (+4.5 percent), health care and social assistance by 150 jobs (+6.5 percent), federal government by 100 jobs (+20 percent) and accommodations by 150 jobs (+3.9 percent).

A “Populations and Economic Projections for the State of Hawai‘i to 2040” report released by DEBIT on Friday states that unlike the U.S. labor force participation rate that peaked at 67.1 percent between 1997 and 2000, Hawai‘i’s labor force peaked at 68.5 percent in 1990 and has declined since then.

“It is not immediately clear whether the decline of Hawai‘i’s labor force participation rate in the 1990s was mainly a result of high unemployment rates during the period or a result of an aging population,” the report states. “However, one thing is clear at this point as the baby boom generation enters retirement; the impact of the aging population on the labor supply will become more important in the coming decades.”

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