Recovery not final

A year later, Sept. 1’s fallout
still grips Hawaii’s workers

By Dave Segal

Native New Yorker John Valentine was in bed when he received a phone call telling him that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

He had been living in Hawaii for two years, but his heart was still several thousand miles away.

"I felt a great sense of loss," he recalled. "I came into work that day and, after 15 to 20 minutes, I took a walk (around downtown) and said to myself that no building in Honolulu could equate to the World Trade Center. I don't think any building here has the great significance as the World Trade Center. I was trying to find some parallel here in the islands.


"And, of course, I felt rage. I thought we were going to war. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed."

Today, Valentine and other Hawaii residents are still coping with the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

State unemployment, which hit a 27-month high of 5.6 percent in November 2001, has been slowly recovering. The state's jobless rate for July, which is the last figure available, matched the 4.5 percent rate that was recorded a month before the attacks in August 2001. Still, thousands of former hotel, airline and cruise line workers are either out of work, operating with reduced hours or working at other jobs for less pay.

One woman, exiting the state's unemployment office recently, wasn't in the mood to talk about her situation.

"You don't want to know what happened to me after Sept. 11," she said as she kept walking. "That's why I'm here in this area."

A man, coming out of the same office a few minutes later, likewise didn't want to discuss his misfortune either.

"Sorry, man, I have an interview I have to go do," he said.

Meanwhile, Hawaii Foodbank, which distributes recycled food and goods to agencies and charities feeding those in need, said distribution in July was 40 percent higher compared with a year ago.

"I think (the reason is) both 9/11 and the vitality of the agencies that are serving out there now," said Brett Schlemmer, Hawaii Foodbank's director of operations. "They're much more focused and dedicated to meeting a greater need only because of 9/11. They've really expanded their servicing of more people to make sure everybody's taken care of. Before Sept. 11, there wasn't that much urgency for expansion and outreach in the community. But (afterward) all the charity organizations that we service felt it was imperative that they put a lot of their resources into it. Now, it's more of a vital safety net."

In Valentine's case, he wanted to do something to show his support for America after the attacks. So, six days later when the stock market reopened, he bought shares in a large-cap domestic index fund because that "would be the best way to spread my dollars among those companies.

"It was the best I could do because I felt so far away," said Valentine, a financial consultant. "I was willing to lose money because I needed to support my family and friends in New York. The only way I could do that really was financially."

Even a year later, his desire to help out his home state hasn't wavered even though his financial position has worsened due to the declining stock market.

For some Hawaii residents, the financial impact from the Sept. 11 attacks hardly caused a ripple.

Jon Masters, a freelance television editor and a former Los Angeles musician, said he wasn't affected at all.

His only investment, he said, has been in gold and silver.

"I expected them to go up considerably but they didn't go up at all," he said. But everything's long term. (Metals) are about the safest thing out there."

But Bob Hampton, president of Waikiki Beach Activities, said gross sales are down 30 percent from a year ago even though some positives have emerged from the Sept. 11 fallout.

"It's still a profitable business," said Hampton, who has a concessionaire contract with the Hilton to provide everything from lifeguard service to surfboards to umbrellas for the hotel's guests. "We've been able to find areas that we should have in the past taken a better look at. And we've been able to build in some efficiencies. So it's actually worked out very well for us."

Hampton, who admits that working for Hilton has shielded his company from possible financial difficulties, said he's had to make some purchasing adjustments but didn't have to lay off or cut hours of any of his 25 employees.

"We're learning a little more about our market as we go along," he said. "It's a different market. Whereas before we were more 50-50 Japanese and westbound. Now we're a little more westbound. We're seeing a lot more Californians. Their purchasing needs are a lot different."

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