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State jobless rate eases


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POSTED: Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chris Tate of Honolulu has been unemployed for two months, and the stresses are mounting.

“;I really, really need a job,”; said Tate, who had worked as an animal groomer for more than a year before getting laid off. “;I'm praying it will happen soon.”;

Tate attended Workforce, Hawaii's oldest and largest job fair, earlier this week but left disappointed, like many of the 6,500 people who went there hoping to snag a job.

;  “;I didn't have any luck,”; Tate said. “;It was the same old story: too many people, not enough jobs.”;

The percentage of unemployed workers in Hawaii actually declined last month for the first time since December 2007; however, it's still tough for job seekers like Tate. Not even the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations or economists expect the reprieve will last.

“;I don't think we've bottomed out,”; Labor Department spokesman Ryan Markham said.

Hawaii's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate improved to 6.9 percent, a decline of 0.2 percentage points from March's 31-year high of 7.1 percent, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Excluding March, April boasted the highest unemployment rate since 1978, Markham said. The Labor Department reported yesterday that 44,400 were looking for jobs in April.

“;While we were encouraged by the decrease in unemployment, the road to recovery is not one traveled easily or quickly,”; said Director Darwin L.D. Ching.

Since unemployment tends to rise for a while after the economy begins to improve, it is likely to keep going up for the foreseeable future, said Byron Gangnes, director of the University of Hawaii Research Organization's Hawaii Economy Group.

“;We have not yet seen the peak of the unemployment cycle,”; he said. “;We think it will peak somewhere above 8 percent.”;

Hiring by the health care industry and the ramping up of the U.S. Census Bureau's offices in Hawaii contributed to the improvement in the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April, Markham said.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of the Census had one of the busiest booths at Wednesday's job fair. The agency, which opened an office in Honolulu in January, was recruiting for six management positions for its Waianae office, said Wanda Liloa Hanson, a partnership specialist/regional technician at the Honolulu Early Local Census Office.

“;We are very aggressive in our hiring,”; Hanson said.

Ultimately, each branch office will have 3,000-plus workers, said Vincent E. Simpson, an area manager for the Los Angeles Regional Census Center.

“;It's a great boost to Hawaii's economy during this downturn,”; said local Census Officer Manager Marilyn Yoza.

“;It's nice that more people found jobs last month, but the improvement was something of an anomaly,”; Markham said.

Save for health care and government, joblessness was on the rise, he said. Hawaii's trade, transportation and utilities sector, which lost 1,400 jobs, took the hardest hit, along with the state's construction industry, which saw another 1,000 jobs disappear, Markham said.

Hawaii is more vulnerable to economic downturns because its key industries are directly linked to people's willingness to spend money, Gangnes said.

“;We don't have a diversified economy,”; he said.

The decision by Hawaii lawmakers to pass more taxes on to visitors and to increase conveyance and income taxes will further contract Hawaii's economy, Markham said.

“;These increases come at a time when consumers can ill afford to spend more, and that's going to hurt business,”; he said.