Help Wanted: The Truth Behind Hawaii's Low Unemployment Rate

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Workers in downtown Honolulu, February 2014.

To the casual observer, Hawaii's comparatively low unemployment numbers have long been a point of pride.

The state's unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in December compared with a national rate of 6.6 percent in January, according to the most recent data from the state and federal governments. Hawaii's rate is the eighth lowest in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the official unemployment rate offers an incomplete portrait of what's going on in Hawaii's job market. The Wall Street Journal recently called the unemployment rate one of the "most misleading" numbers that shapes policy. The op-ed also called it a "statistical artifact."

Hawaii's unemployment rate doesn't reveal how many people have to work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet even though they really want one full-time gig.

"In an ideal world we'd have an account of all that but we don't have any specifics," said Bill Kunstman of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. "That's one of the things that sort of clouds the lens on the unemployment report... a lot of people may have multiple part-time jobs but that's not how the question (in the monthly state survey) is asked."

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