It could take nearly a decade for Hawaii’s employment rate to return to pre-pandemic level

State of Hawaii, Honolulu unemployment office
State of Hawaii, Honolulu unemployment office(None)
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 3:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before the pandemic, Hawaii had one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates and underemployment was also low. When might that be the case again?

According to University of Hawaii forecasters, not until the end of the decade.

In a new analysis, three economists at the Economic Research Organization at UH looked at pre-pandemic unemployment in Hawaii and how joblessness has ballooned to unprecedented levels in 2020.

The unemployment rate in Hawaii now stands at 22.6%, from 2.7% in January.

But while Hawaii had one of the lowest unemployment rate in the country before the pandemic, the UHERO economists say there’s more to the story.

For one, during the Great Recession the civilian labor force in Hawaii fell by 32,200, but the number of people unemployed and looking for work fell by a much smaller 6,700.

The rest of those laid off likely retired, left the state or otherwise stopped looking for work.

At the same time, the state saw a big jump in the number of part-time workers who wanted full-time jobs.

“The official unemployment rates for Hawaii don’t present a complete picture of the state of employment in Hawaii during and after deep economic contractions,” UHERO said, in its analysis.

“By focusing narrowly on the official unemployment rate, government aid that is directed only at the unemployed may miss an even larger cohort of involuntary part-time workers (and those that left the labor force) who may not qualify for assistance.”

Meanwhile, the UHERO economists said that while the Great Recession lasted from 2007 to 2009, employment in Hawaii did not return to pre-recession levels until 2014.

And the number of part-time workers who wanted full-time jobs didn’t fall to 2007 levels until 2019.

As for when total employment in Hawaii will return to pre-pandemic levels, the UHERO economists forecast that won’t happen until 2029.

“Social safety net programs and job re-training and education programs all deserve more attention to avoid a lost decade for Hawaii’s underemployed,” the analysis concluded.

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