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Wednesday, May 24, 2000

drops to
1993 levels

State figures indicate
a stronger economy

By Russ Lynch


Hawaii's unemployment rate took a big drop last month, falling to 4.2 percent of the work force, the lowest it has been in any month since 1993 and well under the 5.8 percent rate of April 1999, state figures show.

Art A number that economists say is more significant, the actual job count as measured by a detailed survey of employers, showed a strong year-over-year improvement. The job count increased 19,000 to 578,400 in nonagriculture civilian work, from 559,400 in April 1999, according to state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations figures released yesterday.

Hawaii's nonagriculture work force, the measure the state uses because it must conform to federal guidelines, increased by 10,100 to 603,900 last month, compared with 593,800 in the previous April, showing that jobs grew faster than the number of people available to work them.

"My sense is, Hawaii is coming right," said David Ramsour, the former chief economist at Bank of Hawaii who now runs the Texas Council on Economic Education but remains a constant Hawaii visitor and consultant to island businesses.

But the improvement is coming in a less vibrant economy, he said.

"The work force being up by 10,000 is probably a smaller increase than in past years," probably due to a decline in immigration, he said. So Hawaii is showing economic recovery but overall is weaker and less vibrant than it was in the boom years of the 1980s, Ramsour said.

At Hawaii's economic peak, the year-over-year increase in the work force was as much as 20,000, he said.

"We've been waiting for the jobs (number) to turn for three years," said Pearl Imada Iboshi, state economist. "The pace has really increased."

Compared with April 1999, there were 2,300 more jobs last month in construction, 1,100 more in hotels, 1,400 more in the state government and 950 more in the federal government.

Hawaii's 4.2 percent unemployment rate fell more than the national average, which was 3.7 percent in April on a seasonally-unadjusted basis, down from 4.1 percent in April 1999. The national rate normally is reported on a seasonally-adjusted basis, but the state uses the unadjusted figure to make it comparable to Hawaii's rate.

Island by island, Lanai, where the resort hotels have been increasing their business lately, had an April jobless rate of only 1.5 percent, down from 2.8 percent in the previous April and the lowest in the state.

Oahu posted 3.7 percent unemployment, down from 5.1 percent. Maui was close at 3.8 percent, down from 5.6 percent. The Big Island's rate fell to 6.7 percent from a year-earlier 9.3 percent.

Kauai's unemployment was 5.7 percent, down from 7.4 percent. Molokai alone showed a year-over-year increase, with unemployment rising to 13 percent from 12 percent in the year-earlier month.

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