Every person working 40 hours a week deserves to earn a wage that provides basic shelter, food and medical care. This statement should not be debatable.
Hawaii’s Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) estimates the very basic minimum living wage for a single person without children, to be approximately $17 per hour.
Hawaii’s current minimum wage is $10.10 per hour.
The state Legislature will be considering bills during the 2019 legislative session to gradually raise Hawaii’s minimum wage until it eventually reaches the living wage threshold (now at $17).
This bold, forward-thinking, people-centered public policy making could in fact actually happen, but only if working people across the state get involved and demand it.
The reality of the legislative process is that very often major decisions are based simply upon which way the wind is blowing. The facts and circumstances are of course important, but it is the wind of public sentiment that makes things move (or not) at the Legislature.
Regular working people, families, singles, young and old people who slave every day earning substandard wages across Hawaii, hold the power and strength of Hurricane Iniki on this issue.
If Hawaii’s rank-and-file workers can set aside some small amount of time to engage this issue — and use the power they have — then Hawaii’s minimum wage can in fact become a living wage.
Research and historical experience here in Hawaii clearly shows that the impacts on our economy will only be positive. And that nothing bad has ever happened when the minimum wage has been raised in the past in Hawaii. The key component of implementation is small steady increases over time that exceed the annual cost of living, or consumer price index (CPI).
Various business and the Chamber of Commerce will of course tell you that if Hawaii raises its minimum wage gradually over time to achieve a living wage threshold, that the sky will surely fall.
Yes, in some cases prices will rise in order to cover the increased cost incurred by the business. In other cases the profits of the business may be reduced somewhat. Yes, consumers may have to pay an additional 25 cents for that elusive gelato, or burger, or plate lunch, or whatever.
But as an island state, no business will have to fear consumers driving across the state line where wages might be lower to buy their burger cheaper.
I have owned small businesses myself in the past and know full well the stress and strain that comes with meeting a payroll on the first and the 15th. I understand that operating a small business in a small marketplace is hard and managing costs are a critical component. However, because every business will be playing by the same rules, the competitive pricing among all business will remain constant.
We may all pay a small amount more for our fast food and cheap clothing from the big box stores, but we will all also benefit from the additional economic activity as these same dollars are recirculated in our economy.
More importantly, our entire community will benefit from the fact that all will be able to afford the basics. Homelessness will be reduced, crime will be reduced, and drug addiction and its related issues will be reduced. And, the very real public and societal costs we are all paying now to deal (or to not deal) with these issues will likewise be reduced.
Setting the minimum wage floor at an amount sufficient to keep a person dry, fed and healthy is not a new or particularly radical concept. Per a December 2017 report on CNBC, 13 other metropolitan areas in the U.S. now have a minimum wage that is sufficient to be considered a living wage, including: Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa in Arizona; Fresno; Toledo; Detroit; Buffalo, NY; Omaha; and Columbus, Ohio. Some of these areas have larger populations than Hawaii and some smaller.
The 2019 legislative session begins on Jan. 16. The Democratic Party of Hawaii has declared a living wage as its No. 1 priority. A majority of the elected members in both the House and the Senate have stated publicly that they support a living wage.
However, the reality is that the Legislature will not move on this important issue without a loud and broad-based show of support from the general public. And this support must be voiced now, early to ensure that this important issue gets on the legislative radar, and stays there until passed into law.
Big business lobbyists are already walking the halls and hosting expensive meet-and-greets at fancy restaurants near the Capitol. These lobbyists are, at this moment, pressing forward their legislative agenda up close and personal, directly with lawmakers, on a daily basis.
While regular working people do not have the luxury of hosting fancy gatherings in downtown Honolulu, we do have people power on our side. But we must use it, and we must show up and press our case before these same legislators.
Please take a moment today to call and to email your own district representative and your senator, asking that they support raising the minimum wage to a living wage, phased in over time. That magic number today is being pegged at $17 per hour phased in over four or perhaps five years.
While it is too early to quote a bill number, it is not too early to ask for their support.
You can locate your specific legislator and the contact information at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov
Please email your representative and senator directly by name as one of their constituents living in their districts. And please also email all senators and all representatives at these two email addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Without the involvement of regular working people, the voice of the corporate lobbyists will dominate the conversation.
Regular working people, students and families struggling just to make ends meet, must find the time to get involved and have their voices heard as well.
The message must be loud, clear and persistent (as in professional, courteous and continuous), that a minimum wage must be a living wage.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii State Senate, where he was Majority Leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of EnvironmentalQuality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.