Unemployment lowest in nearly a decade in Hawaii

LIHUE — Gabe Prieto’s staff has doubled from last year in order to accommodate the number of jobs his business took on in 2016.

“There’s more work out there than there has been in the last few years,” said Prieto, president of Kauai Restoration and Cleaning. “I’ve hired just a few more staff in the last six months.”

The number of people employed in Hawaii for November totaled 676,200, with 20,650 unemployed, according to the Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial relations on Thursday.

The figure represents the lowest unemployment rate for the Aloha State since October 2007, when the unemployment rate was also at 3 percent.

The largest increases in jobs occurred within the professional and business services sector, which saw a gain of 700 workers last month.

In that sector, employment was concentrated in administrative, support, waste management and remediation services.

Businesses such as Kauai Restoration falls into the latter services category, where companies focus on cleaning services such as carpet cleaning and mold abatement.

“Right now, I got about 10 guys. This year, I hired five guys. There’s more going on. People are taking care of maintenance thing they haven’t taken care of in the past. It all flows downstream,” Prieto said.

The trend represents a good economy — and added business — which Prieto said is bouncing back since the 2008 recession.

“The more money businesses and homeowners have, the more they’re apt to hire remediation or cleaning services,” he said.

Eric Nordmeier, director of Kauai WorkWise, said the holiday season correlates with more hirings.

“This is a seasonal time where a lot of the retail outlets are aggressively recruiting so they can fill the orders of the customers,” he said. “Quite often, at the end of the year, October and November, they beef up and then they’ll hire temporary employees. When the season tapers down, they’ll lay them off.”

The unemployment rate for Kauai in November is at 3.1 percent, down from October’s 3.3 percent.

The civilian workforce on Kauai totals 36,150 — with 1,300 of them being unemployed, according to the fourth quarter 2016 report from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

That’s more than the 2015 rate of 35,400.

“The unemployment rate really is supposed to reflect those who are looking for work and they haven’t found it yet,” Nordmeier said. “People that have been unemployed for a long period of time and they haven’t found work, the assumption is that they’re not looking for work.”

More opportunities are available because of baby boomers leaving the workforce, he added.

“There’s a lot of jobs that aren’t being created, but are being replaced. If anybody wants a career, now is the time to start looking,” Nordmeier said. “As the days progress, more and more people are thinking about retiring and there’s going to be a lot of vacancies.”

In another measure of employment, total nonagricultural jobs increased by 2,000 in November over October. Within the major industries, job gains also occurred in manufacturing (plus 100) and construction (plus 100).

Jobs in financial activities remained unchanged. Job losses were experienced in trade, transportation and utilities, other services, educational and health services and in leisure and hospitality.

Prieto said he sees an uptick in business during the latter months of the year when clients in the leisure and hospitality sector push for holiday cleaning.

“If it’s hospitality, they want to get it done because they have a ton of people coming in or they want to get it done during the holidays to start the new year fresh,” he said. “We’re carpet cleaning and cleaning some mold (at a Poipu hotel). We started three weeks ago, and we gotta be out of here by Christmas.”

Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in November, compared to 4.9 percent in October.

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