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Hawaii’s jobless rate soars to 22.3% during pandemic

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped to 22.3% in April, up from just 2.4% the previous month, as hotels, restaurants and retailers closed amid efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Nationwide, the jobless rate stood at 14.7%

The state Department of Labor said Thursday 487,550 people were employed in Hawaii during the month out of a labor force of 627,450.

Grayden Ha‘i-Kelly’s family on the Big Island’s Kona Coast is among those grappling with sudden unemployment. Both he and his wife work for hotels that temporarily shut down in late March.

Ha‘i-Kelly has been using up vacation time since the closure and was getting paid through last week. He’s applying for unemployment this week.

His wife filed for unemployment benefits right away but had to wait about five weeks for her first check to come through. The state has blamed delays in unemployment benefit payments on a surge of applications and outdated computer systems.

“I got to praise my wife, because she was so patient. Never, ever got angry or frustrated,” he said.

He’s glad they both didn’t apply for unemployment at the same time. Not having both incomes “would have been tough,” he said.

He said the pandemic has taught his family some life lessons, like slowing down more in life, strengthening the family and taking care of others. One thing they have been doing is waking up at 5 a.m. three times a week to go to a local eatery to help prepare food for those in need.

“These are some of the lessons I’ve been trying to teach my children. This is how we grew up. Things weren’t always easy,” he said.

By island, the statistics indicate unemployment is most severe on Maui and Kauai islands. The jobless rate on Maui was 36.1% in April on a seasonally unadjusted basis. On Kauai it was 34.4% and on the Big Island, it was 24%

Lanai had the lowest unemployment rate at 5.5%, followed by Molokai at 12% and Oahu at 20%.

Ha‘i-Kelly said he wishes he had learned from his grandfather how to fish — and is grateful that he has friends who do and who will share their catch if he needs.

“People here in Hawaii, we are people of the land. Sustainability was a big thing growing up. And so, if we know how to fish, if we know how to farm, we will be able to survive,” he said.

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