Unemployment claims continue to climb

Jan O'Donnell
Jan O'Donnell
Bruce Keil
Bruce Keil

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) -  Americans continue to lose their jobs at an alarming rate.  National unemployment is now at 8.1 percent, its highest level in more than 25 years.  Hawaii is below the national average at 5.1 percent, but our numbers are climbing.

Naturally Hawaii is not immune from this global recession we're facing.  While we haven't been hit as hard as other parts of the country, claims at the unemployment office have spiked recently.

This is the last place working adults want to find themselves:  the unemployment office.  Jan O'Donnell is an accountant.  She lost her job in January.

"I was very scared, very scared," said O'Donnell, who lives near Aloha Stadium.  "I own my own home. I'm single, by myself. There's no one to fall back on to help pay the bills."

She is among a growing number of Hawaii residents who find themselves out of a job.  New unemployment claims went from 1,374 in January 2008 to 2,400 in January 2009, according to the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.  This is a 75 percent increase.

And weekly claims are also on the rise, from 8,500 last year to 19,900 now.  That's a jump of 133 percent.

"Every day I listen to the news and how nationwide the unemployment rate is going up and up," said O'Donnell.  "And I wonder what's going to happen next? When's it going to stop?"

Geoffrey Furukawa has worked for the Department of Labor for more than 25 years.  He's never seen it like this.

"It's been unprecedented," said Furukawa, an unemployment employment specialist for the department. "It's one of the busiest times during my time here."

And the economic slowdown doesn't discriminate.  It hits industries across the board, and people of various backgrounds.

Bruce Keil is a commercial pilot who got laid off in November 2008.  He's been looking for an airline job for more than four months.

"When I got hired, there was a mass, whole bunch of hiring," said the 30-year-old pilot who is from Laie. "You could basically pick which airline you wanted to go to and now it's like you're just hoping anybody (would hire you)."

He's moved his wife and children from Cincinnati, Ohio, back home to Hawaii so they can stay with his folks.

"I hope it gets better. We'll see," he said.  "Just keep moving. I guess it could only go up. So we'll see how it goes."

"I think it's going to force all of us to change our values about what's really important; what we're going to spend our money on" said O'Donnell. "Do we want to get into debt for it?"

It's a change in our national landscape; a change in how we look at money.

The Department of Labor paid $40 million in unemployment benefits to Hawaii residents just last month.  If you've recently been laid off, you can find a link to the unemployment office on this page or by clicking here.