Head of Labor Department: 190,000 could remain unemployed through end of year

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Updated: May. 25, 2020 at 5:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A staggering 242,000 people are unemployed in Hawaii.

And economists are predicting that less than half of those residents will be back in the workforce this year.

Scott Murakami, state director of Labor and Industrial Relations, expects the number of unemployed to be a consistent 150,000 — and that’s his optimistic view.

“My suspicion is that could be upwards as high as 190,000,” Murakami said. “I think by the end of this year, if we’re lucky, we’ll maybe bring back about 35% of the people that we lost at the peak.”

The massive wave of jobless claims took Hawaii from under 4% unemployment in February to the second-highest unemployment rate in the country in April.

According the state Labor Department, the total seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April was 22.3%.

The total labor force was 627,450 — with 487,550 employed and 139,900 unemployed.

Even when the economy fully reopens, capacity will be dramatically decreased.

“They are not going to open up at the same level of operation they were in the past,” said state Sen. Laura Thielen, “For instance, all the restaurants. they’re not going to be able to seat the same number of people so a lot of people are going to have to get those unemployment payments and actually remain on unemployment.”

The unemployment trust fund, where the money comes from, will run out soon. Murakami said his office applied and was approved for a line of credit from the federal government to cover the jobless claims.

“We had requested $1.3 billion, we have to renew every quarter, so it depends on how long the situation lasts.”

The state Legislature, meanwhile, is working to determine how much of that $1.3 billion the state should draw from because any monies used will have to be paid back. The other option: Using more of the CARES Act money, which doesn’t require repayment but could be better used for other pandemic expenses.

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