This Labor Day, Hawai‘i’s workers need more help than ever

Hawaiʻi’s workers keep our state and economy going through good times and bad. This upcoming Labor Day, they desperately need support to weather what’s become a storm of record unemployment.

Nearly 6 months into the unemployment crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is showing no sign of abating. As shown in the charts below, unemployment is hurting certain people—women, Filipinos and Native Hawaiians, and those working in accommodation and food services—harder than others.

And these numbers have continued to increase every month, turning what we all hoped would be short-term pain into a long-term problem. According to the Hawai‘i Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR), the total number of workers who filed unemployment claims in mid-March was 6,612, and it increased more than tenfold by April, to 69,729. That number has increased every month since then, to 122,585 in July (the latest month of data available).

While twice as many men (4,446) as women (2,166) filed for unemployment insurance (UI) in March, women quickly outpaced men in April. Since May, there’s been a gap of over 10,000 more female unemployed than male unemployed every month. In July, there were 66,776 women versus 55,809 men filing for UI.

By far, workers in the food and accommodation industry were the most likely to file for UI. In July, they filed 42,745 claims. The next largest industry was administrative and waste services, with 12,816. Other hard-hit industries include transportation and warehousing (8,184) and retail trade (7,454).

When looking at the racial and ethnic background of unemployed workers, Filipinos and Native Hawaiians are overrepresented. Among those who specified a category, Filipinos have filed the most claims this year, including 19,167 in July. While white and Latino workers combined filed 14,720 claims, Native Hawaiians—who are a significantly smaller portion of the overall population—were not far behind with 11,603 claims in July.

While there were hopes that the unemployment crisis in Hawai‘i would be short-lived, it is becoming a long-term problem. In April over 80 percent of the duration of unemployment claims was 1 to 4 weeks, and only 17 percent were 15 or more weeks. By July, only 17 percent of claims were in the 1 to 4 week range, while 15 or more weeks represented 44 percent of all claims.

What can we do to help unemployed workers now? The Hawai‘i Working Families Coalition is calling on Governor Ige and state legislators to urgently get hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds to those who need it the most. They have less than four months to distribute it, and Hawaiʻi’s struggling families—especially those who are unemployed—can’t afford to wait any longer for help.

This Labor Day weekend, sign the Working Families Coalition petition and share it with your friends!

For more details: The DLIR releases tables titled “Characteristics of the Insured Unemployed” every month. They look at characteristics that include gender, industry, length of unemployment, and race or ethnicity of workers who have filed unemployment insurance claims in Hawaiʻi for the week containing the 12th of each month.