at 6-year low
The rate fell to 4.4%, a sign ofBy Rob Perez
an improving economy, the state says
Hawaii's unemployment rate last month fell to its lowest level in six years, yet another sign of a moderate expansion in the economy, the state reported today.
The December rate tumbled to 4.4 percent, compared with 5.4 percent a year earlier and 5.2 percent in November 1999, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Last month's rate was the lowest since a 4 percent rate in December 1993, the department said.
It still was above the national rate, however. On a seasonally unadjusted basis, the U.S. rate for December was 3.7 percent.
While the large drop in Hawaii joblessness was partly due to retailers hiring for the holiday season, it also reflected growing strength in the economy, said Patrick Stanley, a department spokesman.
"We're beyond recovery and into moderate growth," Stanley said.
To go along with the fall in the jobless rate, the number of jobs created was on the rise last month. The department reported 537,200 jobs, up 1,800 from the previous month.
Stanley said new, full-time jobs -- not just the temporary retailing positions typically filled during the holiday season -- added to the improving labor picture in December and throughout the year.
The holiday hires, however, contributed to higher job counts in several retailing categories last month.
General merchandise stores added 600 jobs in December, apparel and accessory shops accounted for 400 new positions and grocery stores netted 300 more jobs, according to the department.
Outside the retailing industry, the job picture was mixed.
Hotels and business services each gained 200 jobs, but health services reported 300 fewer positions, the data show.
Likewise, the transportation sector and the finance, insurance and real estate sector each lost 200 jobs last month.
In government, the state's education sector added 500 jobs, primarily due to more part-timers and intermittent workers at the University of Hawaii and Department of Education.
Carl Bonham, research director for the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, said the improving jobs picture can be cited along with other data to show the economy is growing.
"It's absolutely consistent with the story that we have a moderate expansion going on," Bonham said.
On a county basis, Honolulu posted the state's best jobless rate at 3.9 percent.