Unemployment rates in Molokai and Lanai still higher than a year ago | News, Sports, Jobs


Hiro’s Ohana Grill in Molokai, like the rest of the state, is struggling to recruit workers. While unemployment rates on the other islands have tended to decline since the pandemic, Molokai and Lanai have recently recorded higher rates than a year ago. A University of Hawaii economist, however, said he doesn’t think people should “attribute too much meaning” to the fluctuation. — Photo courtesy of Hiro’s Ohana Grill

Like many businesses, Hiro’s Ohana Grill on Molokai has struggled to recruit workers as people slowly return to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year we struggled to recruit workers like the rest of the nation,” said Cameron Hiro, general manager of Hiro’s Ohana Grill. “This has caused difficulties in our restaurant where managers end up working many hours to cover shifts at times. Worst case scenario, we end up closing early or limiting our hours.

Across the Channel, on Lanai, one of the island’s largest employers is facing similar understaffing and recruitment issues.

“Being located on Lanai with a smaller pool of applicants adds to the challenge,” said Pulama Lanai. “As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we hope that the unemployment rate will stabilize and that we can hire qualified people to join our team.”

While the economy is recovering and unemployment rates on some islands have fallen to almost half of what they were a year ago, Molokai and Lanai have seen the opposite trend in recent months, with rates of unemployment up compared to the same period last year. But a University of Hawaii economist doesn’t put too much stock in the numbers, based on how rates have fluctuated on the two islands in the past.

“Economic conditions generally do not change suddenly each month, but rather follow slower cyclical patterns,” said Peter Fuleky, associate professor of economics in the UH Department of Economics and the UH Economics Research Organization known as UHERO.

In March, Maui and the rest of the state saw jobless numbers drop compared to March 2021, when more COVID-19 restrictions were in place. The island of Maui’s unemployment rate was 4.2%, down from 8.2% in March 2021, according to data from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Rates also fell from 8.8% to 4.6% in Kauai County, from 5.6% to 3.3% in Hawaii County and from 5.3% to 3.2% in Oahu. .

Meanwhile, Molokai’s unemployment rate in March was 7.1%, down from 4.2% in March 2021, while on Lanai the rate was 5% in March, down from 3.1% in March 2021 .

(The rates are not seasonally adjusted, meaning they don’t take into account the hiring and layoff trends that come with winter vacation and summer vacation.)

Fuleky said he doesn’t think people should “attributing too much meaning” to recent fluctuations and that there really isn’t a good explanation for it.

He pointed out that similar things happened before the pandemic. For example, the unemployment rate in Molokai between March 2016 and March 2017 fluctuated between 10.5% and 2.1%, according to seasonally adjusted figures from UHERO. Compare that with the experience last year, when the unemployment rate between March 2021 and March 2022 fluctuated between 9.1% and 4.5%, Fuleky said.

Although the most recent fluctuation was less than five years ago, Fuleky said it was within the historical range. “noise,” or a random variation of the data.

“I don’t think we should attribute too much meaning to brief swings within this range,” he said, adding that similar comparisons could be found for Lanai.

Fuleky also showed another example of data fluctuations for Molokai. In seasonally adjusted data for Molokai, the unemployment rate rose from 6% in August 2021 to 10% in November of the same year, then to 6% in January 2022 and 9% in March 2022. He said the rates were “hard to believe.”

“But if you hear about large businesses closing in a month and reopening the next day, I guess that might be possible,” he said.

Fuleky said economic conditions are a fundamental driver of the unemployment rate, and unemployment rates should fluctuate inversely to economic conditions — when economic conditions are good, unemployment rates are low and vice versa.

The economic recovery looked different for each county: Kauai and Maui counties were the hardest hit, with unemployment topping 20% ​​in the first months of the global crisis, according to state labor data. As people returned to work, unemployment rates in Kauai and Maui fell more sharply than in Molokai, whose economy is less tourism-based and generally had higher unemployment rates than the rest of the country. state before the pandemic.

Lanai, which has also seen incredibly high unemployment at times during the pandemic – once reaching 29.3% in November 2020 – fell to 5.9% in December 2020 and saw much lower rates in 2021.

In Molokai and Lanai, some businesses are reporting the same need for workers as businesses on Maui and across the state, although they are not in extreme distress and without workers.

Hiro said the grill has about 35 employees, but workers are slowly being hired and “we have just enough for now.” He felt that having three or four other workers “would.”

“Although we have recently noticed more and more people showing interest in working in the restaurant, especially as we have become busier in recent months,” he said.

At Misaki on Molokai, the grocery store has “I had been looking for workers for some time” says Kevin Misaki.

At the start of the pandemic, when unemployment benefits rose above normal levels, Misaki said the community talked about how it was easier to collect an unemployment check than to work, so the extra benefits can have contributed to the struggle to find employees. at this moment.

But now that the benefit increase has stopped, Misaki said he wasn’t sure what caused the lack of workers.

He said the store’s reduced opening hours also helped ease the pain of the labor shortage. If he had about five more staff it would help, he said.

On Lanai, the largest employers, Pulama Lanai and Four Seasons Resort, also report similar problems finding workers.

“We can’t speak to unemployment numbers, but we’re facing the same staffing shortages that many other businesses in Hawaii are experiencing; we have a number of vacancies available and we continue to work to fill them,” Pulama Lanai said in a statement.

Lori Holland, spokeswoman for Four Seasons Resorts Lanai, said all of her services are available to guests.

But, “Of course there is a global staffing challenge in many industries right now and Lanai is no different, but we continue to welcome and extend our hospitality to our customers,” says Holland.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected] Editor Colleen Uechi contributed to this report.

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