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Hawaii's work force is at an all-time high

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Isle job market shows growth

Unemployment figures are low and the work force is at peak levels

Hawaii posted the highest job percentage increase in the nation last month and an unemployment rate that is once again two percentage points lower than the national average, state labor officials said yesterday.

At the same time, the state is enjoying the largest work force it's ever had.

Hawaii's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April was 3.6 percent, down from March's jobless rate of 3.8 percent, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Nationally, 5.6 percent of the work force was unemployed in April.

Meanwhile, Hawaii's work force is at an all-time high: The state has a total work force of 628,700, of which 606,000 are employed, said James Hardway, assistant to state Labor Director Nelson Befitel. The total work force includes people who have jobs as well as the unemployed.

A year ago, the labor force numbered 613,700, of which 587,900 were employed, and the unemployment rate for April was 4.2 percent.

"Jobs are growing faster than the number of people able to fill them in Hawaii," said Paul Brewbaker, chief economist for the Bank of Hawaii. "It's a seller's market for workers, particularly for workers with advanced skill sets."

The number of unemployed people in the past year, from April 2003 to last month, fell to 22,700 from 25,900, a 12.1 percent drop, the state said.

Meanwhile, last month alone Hawaii gained 4,500 jobs for a total of 577,800 jobs, an increase of 0.8 percent. It was the largest percentage increase in the nation, just ahead of Colorado and Missouri, which saw 0.7 percent increases in the number of jobs, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the year, Hawaii added 13,100 new jobs, an increase of 2.3 percent, to rank fourth highest in the nation, the labor department said.

"This is particularly good news for many of our young adults as they transition from Hawaii's high schools and colleges to the work force," Befitel said in a statement.

Hardway said the growth is fairly evenly distributed over the major job sectors, including tourism, government, trade, transportation, utilities, education and health services.

But Brewbaker cautioned there are downsides to growth.

"It's good if you're looking for a job," he said. "The problem with that is it tends to be accompanied by inflation."

The demand for work exceeding the number of workers is mirrored in the demand for housing outpacing the number of homes, more traffic and more strain on infrastructure and resources such as water.

"It's one of those examples of the old saying, 'Be careful of what you wish for,'" he said.

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