As COVID-19 takes its economic toll, the latest figures show nearly one in four Hawaii workers are out of a job. Previous data indicated the rate could be higher, at about one in three workers unemployed.

What the actual rate is remains elusive.

On Thursday, state labor officials announced a 22.3% unemployment rate for April.

That figure, however, is based on a monthly federal phone survey of about 1,000 local households that’s conducted over a one-week period, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Unemployment Insurance office located at the Princess Ruth Keelikolani Building . DLIR
How many people are actually out of work in Hawaii? The state’s unemployment rate is elusive and based on how it’s being measured. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The so-called Current Population Survey is done via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau — not DLIR, an agency spokesman said Friday. Its monthly sample generally fails to reach the full 1,000 households, he added.

Thus, it probably doesn’t reflect Hawaii’s actual unemployment rate, DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman said.

“There’s no perfect data out there, and there’s no perfect survey. There’s limitations to everything, and the unemployment rate is one of those things,” Kuntsman said Friday. “It’s not a particularly large survey.”

Meanwhile, Hawaii has seen nearly 242,000 unemployment claims filed since the pandemic hit, according to state data.

That number would seem to give a clearer picture of the state’s jobless rate when compared to the overall workforce. So far, that offers an incomplete picture as well, however. More than 43,000 of those claims have already been denied and thousands more are expected to be denied going forward.

The final tally of approved claims has yet to be determined. The state has struggled to process them as it deals with unprecedented demand and an antiquated government IT system.

Nearly, 67,000 claims — most of which are the most complicated cases — remain to be processed, according to DLIR.

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