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Thursday, March 2, 2000

Hawaii jobless rate
falls to 4.9 percent

By Russ Lynch


Art The gap between the Hawaii and the national unemployment rates is improving, an another indication that the islands' long-stagnant economy may finally be on the upswing.

Hawaii's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in January, down 1.3 percentage points from the January 1999 level of 6.2 percent, according to the monthly report from the state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations. The department said there were 29,300 people out of work in January, compared with 36,300 a year earlier.

The state also grew closer to the U.S. unemployment level, which through all of last year was substantially lower than the Hawaii rate.

Using raw data, not seasonally adjusted, the U.S. jobless rate in January was 4.5 percent, less than a half a point above the Hawaii rate. In January of last year, the gap was 1.4 points, with the U.S. running at 4.8 percent. The seasonally adjusted U.S. jobless rate for January was 4.0 percent.

As the mainland economy soared, Hawaii has suffered from economic stagnation through much of the 1990s. However, the state recently has been recording signs of some economic growth, including increased tax revenues and retail sales.

Elsewhere in the United States, Connecticut had the nation's lowest unemployment rate, at 2.2 percent, in January. Alaska, at 5.9 percent, had the highest, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Hawaii's January figures showed 573,000 people in jobs in Hawaii, a growth of 9,000 jobs or 1.6 percent from 564,000 employed in January 1999. The Hawaii work force grew 0.3 percent to 602,300 from a year-earlier 600,600.

All islands except Molokai showed lower unemployment percentages in January than they had a year-earlier with the biggest difference on the Big Island, where the jobless rate fell to 6.5 percent from 8.8 percent in January 1999. Oahu's January jobless rate slipped to 4.3 percent from 5.4 percent. Kauai reported a January unemployment level of 7.9 percent, down from 9.3 percent. Maui was at 4.8 percent, down from 6.4 percent, and Lanai's rate dipped to 5.1 percent, from 5.8 percent. On Molokai, unemployment averaged 11.4 percent in January, up slightly from 11.3 percent in January 1999.

The statewide rate of 4.8 percent was higher than the 4.7 percent level in December, but most of that change could be attributed to seasonal changes in the market, such as the end of temporary retail and Postal Service jobs after the holiday season.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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