Hawaii’s traditional unemployment rate is low, at 4.6 percent, but newly released federal data shows that more people in the islands are underemployed than are jobless.
There were 31,500 residents who were unemployed in 2013 while another 32,800 residents were working part-time even though they wanted more work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As Civil Beat reported in February, the “real unemployment rate” was 11.5 percent last year. That’s the rate economists sometimes use to more precisely describe the true unemployment situation.
Hawaii’s “real unemployment rate” is more than twice as high as the one we usually see because it includes people who have stopped looking for jobs and people who only work part-time even though they want — or need — to have full-time jobs.
Though the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations doesn’t track the number of Hawaii residents who are involuntarily part-time workers, the federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics released data this week that gives a more detailed glimpse of just what’s going on with Hawaii’s workforce.
Labor and statistics bureau spokesman David Kong said that the real unemployment rate in Hawaii began to increase substantially around 2009, peaking in 2010. “It has started to go down in the last two years, but slightly,” he said.
When Hawaii’s real unemployment rate peaked at 16.9 percent in 2010, it was higher than the national average. At 11.5 percent in 2013, Hawaii was back below the national average of 13.8.
The new data also shows that some 12,000 residents were “marginally attached” to the labor force last year, which refers to people who want a job but who gave up on searching for a job in the four weeks preceding the survey.
More than one-third of those 12,000 people reported that they stopped looking because they believed no jobs were available for them.
Kong told Civil Beat that it’s not clear why the other two-thirds of those 12,000 people ended their searches.
Hawaii’s involuntary unemployment rate is still below the national average; and it’s much lower than states like Nevada, where the “real unemployment rate” was 18.1 percent last year.
In fact, many western states — California, Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona — have some of the highest real unemployment rates in the country.
But most U.S. states, including Hawaii, benefited from improving numbers last year. Hawaii was one of 33 states where all six of the federal government’s measures of unemployment decreased in 2013.