COVID-19 economic downfall continues after short-lived gains


HONOLULU (KHON2) — The early spring COVID-19 shutdowns had the biggest impact on the economy. Researchers from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) said there are improvements, but for everyday business owners, those improvements are not being felt fast enough.

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UHERO’s Executive Director, Carl Bonham said this year’s economic recovery peaked in June, but it has been a steady decline ever since.

“We only got to 36% of the recovery and then things turn the corner as we saw a surge in cases on Oahu,” Bonham said. “You know, even before the new shutdowns on Oahu, we started seeing slippage.”  

Bonham said the slippage is correlated to a surge in cases during the summer months.

The UHERO Economic Pulse data uses indicators such as air passenger count, unemployment claims, opened businesses and payroll to determine how much the state has recovered since the pandemic started.

The economic pulse weekly data determines the gains and losses in percentages, a scale of 100% to 0%, with 100% being full economic recovery.

The worst month so far was April, when the state practically shut down and resulted in the economic scale dropping to zero.

Bonham said, “Right now we’re only 19 percentage points above the bottom, so we’ve got a long way to go to get back to a near-complete recovery.”  

The slow recovery is being felt among business owners like Thomas Ray, who is the co-owner of two restaurants in Honolulu. His downtown restaurant Square Barrels is operating on a skeleton crew, and under the Honolulu Mayor’s latest order, they had to go back to only doing take-out.

“We certainly appreciated it being able to do business because it gave us a light on the end of the tunnel,” Ray said. “But, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and once they announced a second lockdown I had to launch a GoFundMe.”

Ray’s second location, Heiho House, recently opened for take-out. He and his partners have been working to open their new location during the pandemic months.

Ray said, “We’re down to no staff, we have reduced all of our lunches, we’re just doing what we can to survive.”

The latest stay-at-home order is set to expire mid next week, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he will announce reopening plans soon.

Caldwell said, “We’re hoping by the end of this week we will be announcing a new order that will open up things, and retail will be one of the first things to open.”

Businessman Thomas Sorensen, who owns INspiration Interiors, said each week that passes is a major loss for him and his employees.

Sorensen said, “That week, just in numbers, just for me is a half-a-million dollars. He’s talking like it’s nothing, ‘It’s fine, Thomas take it easy, it’s just another week,’ right?”

The mayor’s two-week extension of the stay-at-home order is in effect through September 23.

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