Growing numbers on bench
Although construction accounts for only 6 percent of jobs on Maui, the swings in this sector “play a large role in both job growth and job loss on Maui,” according to a study released last week by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.
And since construction jobs are being lost at an annual rate of 17 percent, the outlook is not good.
“Construction has ceased to be a growth engine for Maui’s economy at a time when other sources of job growth have stalled,” wrote professor Carl Bonham.
Furthermore, he noted that building permits have taken a huge dive. The dollar value of permits fluctuates erratically. But the fall from $352.6 million at the peak during the fourth quarter of 2006 to $45.9 million in the third quarter of this year is “a useful signal.”
Bill Kamai of the Maui branch of the Hawaii Carpenters Union said a third of his members are out of work, and large numbers have been out of work for a long time.
Unemployed workers in Hawaii can get benefits for 26 weeks and can apply for an additional 13 weeks. Kamai said the union knows when carpenters apply for extensions because the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations asks the union to confirm that the applicant is still in the union.
That means some carpenters have now been without work for close to nine months. And it’s worse with the operating engineers, said Kamai, who at last report had more than 50 percent idle.
Bonham’s report, researched by graduate students Sean D’Evelyn and Heber Moulton, takes the numbers through August. They have deteriorated since, he said during at interview at the ILWU Hall.
Bonham has been painting a gloomy picture of the islands’ economy for some time, and for a while he was apologetic about it. Now that the rest of the world has caught up with his pessimism, he just launches into the news without preamble.
The loss of construction jobs is linked to the decline in housing values, whose collapse is affecting lenders. Both values and the number of transactions are down on Maui, Bonham said.
Although local banks avoided writing subprime loans, out-of-state lenders were working the islands, and the proportion of subprime loans in the state, 11 percent, is only slightly below the national rate.
“Because construction has been a primary driver in Maui’s job market for the past five years,” the report says, “this has troubling implications for the overall Maui economy.”
“I don’t know of any $300 million projects that are going to be approved soon,” he said.
Since only a few projects are being advanced, the jobs created in the past few years are running out. The heavy equipment operators felt it first, as little site work is being called for. With no sites being readied, no work for other trades is being created.
As of August, the masons reported a lower, although still high unemployment rate, 37 percent.
The operating engineers reported 25 percent on the bench in September 2007, at a time when the masons were reporting 34 percent.
Since then, the engineers’ rate has zoomed, while the masons’ rate has crept up only slightly. However, Bonham said, the masons will beginning catching up – or “catching down” – soon.