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Unemployment hits 12-year high


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POSTED: Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hawaii's unemployment rate skyrocketed to its highest level in 12 years last month as the state's key construction and tourism industries continued to stagger under the weight of a faltering economy.

While Hawaii's 6.5 percent seasonally adjusted jobless rate tied the state with Texas for the 14th lowest in the nation, it is the isles' highest monthly level since it hit 6.6 percent in June 1997, said Ryan Markham, special assistant to the director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

“;It isn't great when unemployment is on the rise, but relative to the rest of the country, we are doing OK,”; Markham said.

Hawaii's February rate remained well below the national average of 8.1 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In February, 607,950 Hawaii workers were employed, the Labor Department reported yesterday. That was 1,200 fewer than were employed in January and 21,500 fewer than in February 2008. Unemployed workers grew to 42,250 in February from 39,750 the previous month and 20,350 the previous year.

Job losses were experienced in construction, which lost 900 jobs during the month; leisure and hospitality, which lost 600 jobs; financial services, which lost 300 jobs; and trade, transportation and utilities, which lost 100 jobs. Employment expanded in several sectors, including professional and business services, which added 400 jobs; other services, which added 300 jobs; and education and health services, which added 100 jobs.

More job growth is expected later this year as $1.89 billion from Gov. Linda Lingle's state capital improvement program gets pumped into the hands of state laborers and tradesmen, Markham said. And, hopefully, tourism will recover as consumer confidence improves and investment in emerging markets begins to pay off, he said.

“;We are also excited about the $700,000 per week in additional stimulus money that will help our local economy as unemployment claimants get an additional $25 per week in benefits,”; he said.

The additional benefit took effect Feb. 22, and claimants began receiving back pay this week, Markham said.

“;That's a good chunk of change that will go back into Hawaii's economy,”; he said. “;We're hoping it will create more jobs.”;

Competition for prospective jobs is fierce, said Judy Bishop, owner of Bishop & Co., a Honolulu-based staffing and career counseling company.

“;It's an employer's market. We get 100 resumes a day when last year we might have gotten five,”; Bishop said. “;Job seekers must show employers that they are willing to give 120 percent, and they might have to consider taking jobs that are 10 to 15 percent less than they were making.”;

It is also more challenging to bring job seekers and employers together in a down economy, said David Bower, director of marketing for ALTRES, which advertises itself as Hawaii's largest locally owned employment agency.

“;The truth is that a lot of jobs don't get advertised,”; Bower said. “;There are a lot of barriers in the market because recruitment and advertising are so expensive.”;

People network within their companies to find or fill jobs, and a lot of companies turn to staffing agencies to find applicants because it is more cost-effective, he said.

Job seekers who customize their resumes and show that they understand the company's vision will stand out from other applicants, Bishop said. Joining industry organizations and using social networking applications like Linked In and Twitter are good ways to expand professional circles, she said.

“;Job seekers need to tell everyone that they know that they are looking for a job. It's the most effective way to find opportunities,”; Bower said.

Job seekers who need to gain entry into the market should consider temporary work, Bishop said.