UH economists predict ‘significant’ job losses in Hawaii as economic fallout of coronavirus widens

Experts are expressing growing concern about how the coronavirus outbreak might impact...
Experts are expressing growing concern about how the coronavirus outbreak might impact Hawaii's economy.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Mar. 11, 2020 at 6:49 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new University of Hawaii forecast predicts the economic impacts of coronavirus to the islands will be significant and long-lasting, resulting in at least 4,000 job losses before year’s end as visitor arrivals decline sharply.

The recovery, UH researchers add, could last years.

The analysis was released Tuesday by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO).

“Your immediate impacts are in accommodations, in food service, in transportation, in retail," said Carl Bonham, Executive Director of UHERO.

It predicts the financial toll of coronavirus in Hawaii will likely far exceed the impact seen during the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, which resulted in a sharp decline in visitors and then a quick recovery.

Hawaii has already seen a sharp drop in passenger arrivals and hotel occupancy rates, and the tourism industry is also reporting a steady rise in cancellations.

But unlike with SARS, the recovery from coronavirus is expected to be slow.

“The rolling nature of disease outbreaks — and the potential for significant knock-on macroeconomic effects — will likely result in a downturn that is much more severe than we saw with SARS,” the researchers said, in the analysis.

“While recovery begins this summer, we do not expect it to be complete until next summer.”

UHERO added that real visitor spending could decline by 17% in the second quarter alone and by 10% over the year.

“Our macroeconomic forecast for Hawaii is now much more pessimistic, with job losses of nearly 4,000 workers by the third quarter of this year, and a very restrained pace of hiring for the next several years."

“Among the counties, Honolulu is most adversely affected, because of its heavier reliance on international markets, but all islands see a substantial decline in visitor numbers this year and a protracted recovery period, as well as aggregate job losses.”

The research institute added that the forecasts could change dramatically as the situation unfolds.

Meanwhile, more events are being cancelled because of coronavirus concerns.

The state’s largest St. Patrick’s Day party organized by Murphy’s Bar & Grill will not happen this year.

The block party attracts thousands of people each year.

Owner Don Murphy says it was a ‘no-brainer.’

“It was really a pretty easy decision with what’s going on. We talk with the Board of Health and we thought it was the prudent thing to do, to just shut it down this time," said Murphy. “It’s not like everyone was going to come – 8,000 to 10,000 six feet apart. They’re all jammed in together."

Murphy said the restaurant will still be open and they are trying something different this year.

“We’re gonna set up in the alleyway behind my building. They can drive right down Nuuanu and we’re going to have our to-go boxes right there," he said. "We’ll have it set up. They can call, prepay, put their name in their order, pull right up, get the box and they’re out of there.”

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