Jobless rate rises
POSTED: Friday, April 17, 2009
It took Edgardo Pascual of Kunia only a few days to find work after he was laid off from his job at Weyerhaeuser Paper Co. last July.
"By the next Monday, I had started at Ball Corp.," he said.
But as one of the last workers hired, Pascual was one of the first laid off when the company downsized last month.
State can pay unemployed
Hawaii's unemployed workers may qualify for more than a year of unemployment compensation.
Since state unemployment has been 6 percent for more than three months, unemployed workers are eligible for an additional 13 weeks of emergency unemployment compensation if they exhaust their 46-week allotment before Dec. 31. For more information, go to http://www.hawaii.gov/labor.
"I cannot even sleep sometimes, thinking about what I'm going to do now," Pascual said.
This time, Pascual is finding it harder to recover from the economic downturn that cost him his second job in eight months.
He's not alone.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported yesterday that Hawaii's unemployment rate climbed to 7.1 percent in March, more than double the 3.1 percent a year earlier. The rate on the Big Island and Kauai both topped 10 percent, while Honolulu reached 5.8 percent.
The number of people looking for work statewide last month was 45,850, and the number of available jobs shrank by 19,400.
While job losses in Hawaii's lead tourism sector stabilized last month, the state's key construction industry was hammered by a loss of 1,400 jobs.
The state hopes that federal stimulus funds eventually will help stem the tide of joblessness by providing more unemployment benefits and training opportunities.
About $1.9 billion in stimulus money is slated for new construction and maintenance projects; however, rebuilding Hawaii's economy could take some time.
Even though March unemployment numbers rose to their highest level in 31 years, the worst could be ahead of the state.
"Unemployment will continue to rise until well into the second half of 2009," said Hawaii economist Paul Brewbaker, whose Bank of Hawaii job was turned into a consulting position earlier this year.
Brewbaker said he expects unemployment will persist at a high level through 2010 and will follow a pattern seen by economists after the dot-com recession, when output and productivity were rising but employment was not.
"My concern is that this same outcome could repeat itself in 2010 and 2011," he said.
But Brewbaker said that the construction sector could lead the state's recovery.
"The military is a source of stability, not growth, and tourism will be slow in returning," he said. "It's going to be harder upfront for construction to recover because of the drop-off."
But construction will see some improvement later this year due to the stimulus projects, Brewbaker said.
Most recent unemployment figures shown 3,000 people lost their jobs last month.
"We may begin to get out of this in 2010 or 2011," he said.
The outlook is bleak for now, said Karen Nakamura, president and chief executive of the Builders Industry Association of Hawaii.
The state's residential housing sector flattened last year when credit dried up and consumer confidence fell to a record low, she said. Private commercial-sector projects are either coming to a close or have stalled, like the Moana Vista high-rise on Kapiolani, Nakamura said.
"The cranes are just sitting outside the Moana Vista," she said. "They aren't running."
Likewise, public-sector work has slowed due to lack of funding, Nakamura said.
"In the last few days, we've heard from the construction unions that their members are looking at a 35 to 40 percent unemployment rate," said Bill Wilson, president of Hawaiian Dredging Co.
While recovery is not going to happen overnight, help is on the way, said Ryan Markham, DLIR spokesman.
The stimulus projects likely will not break ground for some time, but the state has attempted to bridge the gap with some of the nation's most generous unemployment benefits, he said.
But it's tough to survive on unemployment alone, and there's often a lag between job loss and that first benefit check, said Darren Dolfo, who lost his job as a port utility operator for the Hawaii Superferry on March 20.
"I finally got my first check on Tuesday," Dolfo said. "It's hard to wait when the bills are due. It's no wonder people are going homeless."