Skip to navigationSkip to content
AP Photo/Caleb Jones
Working hard in paradise.

Hawaii’s unemployment rate is a shockingly low 2.3%

Natasha Frost
By Natasha Frost


From our Obsession

Future of Work

Preparing for a labor force that doesn't yet exist.

Unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 50 years, at a national average of 3.7%, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Hawaii, it’s even lower: 2.3%. More incredibly, that’s actually an increase on the state’s April and May low of 2%.

It sounds great, but it isn’t necessarily such good news for locals. “This may indicate that our economy has entered into a slow growth path,” Eugene Tian, chief economist for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, told the Honolulu-based Star Advertiser.

The national number is not unambiguously positive either, despite trumpeted claims from the US president to the contrary. A very low unemployment rate often indicates dark clouds ahead, as it’s all but impossible to sustain such rates for very long. In 1929, for example, unemployment dipped to 3.2%, then soared to 15.9% within two years, sparked by the Depression. In 1952, the rate’s most recent extreme low, it sat at 2.7%, then shot up to 5% when the Dow returned to 1929 levels. Finally, in 1970, unemployment moved from a low of 3.5% up to 6.1%, as a recession took hold.

This low rate doesn’t guarantee that a crisis is on the horizon—but it does suggest that we should expect a return to what’s sometimes called the “natural rate” of unemployment, or roughly 5%, which accounts for fluctuations in the job market and the ordinary movements of workers between jobs.

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.