Hawaii’s minimum wage needs to be a living wage.

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: sens@capitol.hawaii.gov and reps@capitol.hawaii.gov

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.

  1. gordon oswald December 26, 2018 5:59 am Reply

    Well, Gary Loser just put the final exclamation point on his “career”. This Socialist bastion of delirious intelligence thinks everyone who works needs to be paid more than what the market calls for. OK, so what will I do as a company owner who is stupidly being forced to raise the pay of people beyond what the market dictates they’re worth? What will happen to those people who are being paid beyond their worth to the marketplace? When did Government take ownership of my business? What is my only recourse as a company owner? Right Loser! I will immediately get rid of full time jobs in that category, my new automation and robots will thrive while families suffer, and eventually everyone in the minimum wage category will be on 100% Government support, FOREVER, or until they figure out how to increase their value to the free market through education and HARD WORK! And, oh yes, when did every job in the world become a total “family supporting” job instead of an “augment my family income” job? Yep, the Gary Loser formula for failure. We saw it in real life and now he’s vomiting all over the Island in a futile attempt to become relevant, courtesy of the Garden Island. The mainland is calling Gary. Might we suggest California, the homeless capital of the world and bankrupt Socialist Government State, overrun by millions of illegal immigrants all demanding the American Taxpayer pay themselves into oblivion to support their Government mandated “minimum wage” and “welfare” bonanza. Businesses leaving California like Cats off a hot stove. All because of “failed politicians” Gary! God help us.

    1. Pete Antonson December 27, 2018 2:42 pm Reply

      I know several pot bellied, aging, white, male, right wingers who are still using propaganda slogans from the 90’s (and will continue); but, we’ll try anyway! Gov. Jerry Brown, of California, entered office with the $27 billion deficit of Gov. Arnold (R) 8 years ago and leaves behind a nearly $15 billion rainy day fund and a budget surplus. With a rise in gross domestic product of 3% in 2017, California is one of the fastest growing States. The Startups and new companies that flock to, and thrive in, California far outweigh the loss of some companies. The immigrant problem is “not enough” to harvest the Central Valley. So, do try to “keep up” with the changing facts about the Nation’s future model for economic growth!

  2. james December 26, 2018 7:25 am Reply

    Should every person who wants to live in Silicon Valley be entitled to a wage that would allow them to live there? Should everyone who wants to live in NY City be entitled to a wage that would allow them to live there? Clearly, the answer is a resounding NO. It is a choice to live in Hawaii. People have to accept responsibility for their own choices. If you can’t find a job that allows you to live here, move to somewhere more affordable. Not everyone who wants to live here will be able to afford to live here. Hard truth.

  3. behappy December 26, 2018 8:42 am Reply

    The problem with higher wages, though they are badly needed, is Hawaii is the most expensive state in the nation. It has the highest cost of living. With increased wages we will all be paying more for everything, something to think about. It’s a vicious circle, the more you pay workers the more things cost and so it goes. Workers end up paying more for goods and services so their wage increase amounts to nothing.

  4. RG DeSoto December 26, 2018 8:44 am Reply

    There you go again, Gary…pretending to understand economics.
    It is well documented (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/column-15-minimum-wage-wont-hurt-workers-dont-take-seriously) that minimum wage laws hurt the low skilled, less experienced workers–the very people that it is purported to help. Raising the cost of anything, labor included, generally results in less of that good or service demanded. This effect may be mitigated when the economy is over-fueled by the Fed’s easy money, inflationary actions.
    From economic research into minimum wages:
    “In 2006, economists David Neumark and William Wascher published a Working Paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research surveying the economic literature on minimum wages. Among their findings:
    Negative employment effects was a “relatively consistent” finding — especially from “almost all” of the studies providing the “most credible evidence”
    Conversely, “very few — if any” studies provided “convincing evidence of positive employment effects”
    There was “relatively overwhelming evidence of stronger disemployment effects” for the least-skilled8
    In 2013 and 2014 Neumark and Wascher, joined by economist J.M. Ian Salas, revisited the issue in light of new studies. They concluded that “the evidence still shows that minimum wages pose a tradeoff of higher wages for some against job losses for others, and that policymakers need to bear this tradeoff in mind when making decisions about increasing the minimum wage”9 and that “the best evidence still points to job loss from minimum wages for very low-skilled workers — in particular, for teens.’ ”

    Gary’s use of the term “living wage” is, of course, utter nonsense…just what is a living wage anyway? Why not raise the minimum wage to $30 per hour, Gary, if you’re so confident in mandated wage rates?
    There’s an adage that says it is best to not say anything and let the world think you a fool rather than open your mouth and confirm its suspicions.
    RG DeSoto

    1. Gary Hooser December 28, 2018 5:04 pm Reply

      If you kept up on the reading you would see there is new information that reverses the earlier conclusions you refer to: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/22/business/economy/seattle-minimum-wage-study.html

      1. RG DeSoto December 30, 2018 3:41 pm Reply

        “In their latest paper, which has not been formally peer reviewed, Mr. Vigdor and his colleagues….”
        So you’re looking at a paper that was not peer reviewed and holding it up as the new holy grail of your progressive nonsense?
        Economics is economics, Gary. And while those of your ilk like to make believe that markets–labor markets in this case–are unaffected by cost implications of any particular resource, you are all dead wrong. As Frederic Bastiat (https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Bastiat.html) pointed out in the 19th century…there is the seen and the unseen. In other words many people of all stripes only look at the the intended consequences, higher wages, but are ignorant of the unintended consequences, eventual reduction of employment for unskilled labor.
        In Seattle’s case which the NYT (progressive cesspit) it is most likely the fact that the economy is pushing up against the full employment threshold that people are still employed. But what happens when there is a downturn, which there will be, what group of workers will be the first to lose their jobs and employment opportunities? Highly skilled productive and higher paid employees or the over paid, less productive unskilled?
        You, like Pete Antonson, need to get a grip on economic reality.
        RG DeSoto

  5. manawai December 26, 2018 9:35 am Reply

    Actually Mr. Hooser, smarter and more experienced people than you and your socialist cohorts disagree:


    1. Pete Antonson December 27, 2018 2:44 pm Reply

      Typical of the Grassroots Institute, a bastion of right wing propaganda for 20 years now.

      1. RG DeSoto December 30, 2018 3:27 pm Reply

        So sound fundamental economics are now “right wing propaganda”? Get a grip Pete!
        RG DeSoto

        1. Pete Antonson December 31, 2018 1:43 pm Reply

          No, the Grassroots Institute has been, is, and will be, a right wing propaganda facility rather than an unbiased source of information.

  6. Sue December 26, 2018 10:25 am Reply

    No one forces you to live here. No one forces you to dropout of school or not better yourself by continuing your education. If you can’t live here, MOVE! Not everyone can afford paradise. It’s sad, but true. You can’t always have what you want, that is what you learn as an adult.

    Raising the minimum wage by such a huge amount will just raise prices on EVERYTHING, and then just make the cost of living go up, thus putting the minimum wage earners right back where they started; having to work 2 jobs again. Maybe nothing horrible has not happened in the past by hiking the minimum wage, but when has it ever been lifted by more than half its current amount in the past?

    Homelessness and addiction will not go “poof” just because we raise the minimum wage! That is wishful thinking. Those 2 problems are far more complex than can be solved by raising wages.

    Small businesses can’t survive paying such wages to workers. Many more jobs will become automated if the minimum wage skyrockets to what you are asking for. Where will these workers be when their jobs are gone?

  7. NaNaNa December 26, 2018 1:51 pm Reply

    If only policy makers paid attention to basic economics. Raising wages artificially will force a corresponding change in the price of everything else. That’s just how it works.

    Please stop trying to buy poor peoples’ votes with promises that will not be kept.

  8. harry oyama December 26, 2018 4:37 pm Reply

    Its not increasing the minium wage, but reducing excess taxes that these stupid Democrat politicians do not understand.

  9. Doug Shannon December 26, 2018 4:44 pm Reply

    What Mr. Hooser doesn’t get is that minimum wage is a starting point, it is not meant to support an individual (or family). Start at the minimum, do well, get raises and move up the ladder to supervisory positions where the wage is a living wage. Having moved from a state that instituted a minimum wage hike (and yes, I owned a small business there) raising the minimum wage did a couple of things. First, it made it very difficult for our youth to get their first job while in high school or college because businesses cut back on help due to the expense of the rising minimum wage. Second, it raised prices to where people could not afford to go out to eat or buy all of the necessities of life. In my business, competition with the internet kept our prices low, so there was not a large profit, but we still gave raises to our long term people every year. Once the minimum wage started going up, it was difficult to give raises to the people who deserved them (hard workers) versus the ones who just showed up to work to collect a check. Again, you should not be in a minimum wage job for life, you need to work your way up or gain experience and then move on to another company in order to increase your wage (which is what I did prior to opening the business). Minimum wage allows small business to hire and train entry level personnel.

  10. RG December 26, 2018 6:20 pm Reply

    “Every person who works 40 hrs a week deserves a wage that provides basic shelter, food, and medical care”
    Karl Marx would be proud. I know many local businesses who are owned by local people and provide goods and services for local people. 7 more dollars per hour will knock them out of buisiness. Them more mainland chains can come in and siphon off the profits. Dumbest thing Gary has written . And tgat says a whole lot.

  11. Jake December 27, 2018 4:32 am Reply

    Good God, 100% of comments, thus far, in opposition to the liberal left’s economic mantra. I thought this was the most blue state in the Union??? I hope you all voted.

  12. ViewFromLense December 27, 2018 5:38 am Reply

    A variable that is not being taken into account is the rate of inflation. The prices will always rise but if you don’t have min raise rise as much as the inflated prices of goods and services then you have created the great divide. This happens in third world countries where there is only the rich and the poor.

    You people forgot where you came from and don’t care about anyone else but yourselves. In the 1960’s to the 1980’s, a family of 4 could live off of a sole person having a job. Now inflated cost of living everywhere and not just Hawaii has soared astronomically and there’s no way a person or two people in a family can live off of min wage. In Hawaii the poverty rate is 40K for a single person and 80K for a family of 4. What is wrong with this picture.

    The I got mines mentality is known all too well on Kauai.

    There’s so many variable to take into account that not one solution alone can solve the problem. It’s like the Kapaa traffic, not one solution alone can solve that mess.

    1. Jake December 28, 2018 6:43 am Reply

      There are many variables….

      Houses in the 60’s were 800 square feet, there was free TV via antennas, no monthly internet charges, no cell phone charges, cars were simple, people were not living on credit, families were not taking endless expensive vacations, things made locally were generally cheaper. In general, we lived with less, thus we needed less. Not today. Today it is a Global economy, with competition from every country on the planet. The USA had it EASY in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Many things are actually cheaper today.

      “I got mines mentality” is a joke. Unless you are a trust fund baby, we all had to sacrifice, save, and plan to get where we are today. If your issue is with transplants that were “living on the cheap” all their lives elsewhere, and then moved here, then maybe you should try the “cheap life” off one of the most isolated islands on the planet that produces nothing but sun, surf, and sunny weather. Easier to blame the transplants then to tell your elected “do nothings” to get rid of the real reason people can’t afford to live here: The Jones Act.

  13. sheeples December 27, 2018 8:56 pm Reply

    In the words of a well known kauai real estate mogul, “the future is the super wealthy elite and Filipino slaves.” The motions are already set. Cheap labor is plentiful and readily available. Neoliberal policies are for sure the only thing that works anywhere in the world. Greed and avarice help the gilded overlords sleep well at night. I heard it’s the only way, my social media trained me well!!

  14. MisterM December 28, 2018 6:59 am Reply

    The vitriolic knee-jerk reaction of paying $17/hr by the AWM is predictable. But go look what happens when you don’t pay a living wage – people end up on some sort of public assistance, costing taxpayers far more in the end. So AWM, would you rather pay slightly more up front, or a lot more once your money is funneled through government agencies? Right now, Walmart is subsidized to the tune of tens of billions via taxpayers because so many are forced to get public assistance to survive.

  15. Gary Hooser December 28, 2018 5:01 pm Reply

    Read “Australia pays its fast food workers $20 per hour and the sky has not fallen”. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/talent/australia-pays-fast-food-workers-20-an-hour-and-the-sky-hasnt-fallen/article38026876/

    1. RG DeSoto December 29, 2018 4:50 pm Reply

      Gee, Gary…just who do you think will end up paying for this? The businesses? No, the consumers will as businesses will simply boost their prices to cover the higher wage cost. Again, you pretend to be an economist without actually having a clue.
      Since you seem to care so much for people’s financial well being, why do you never acknowledge the government’s excessive tax burden as part of the problem? Because, of course, you are a socialist progressive and love anything that increases the size of the administrative tyranny that allows the elitist to control us.
      Do you remember when you ran a business bankrupt and failed to pay some $46k in GE Taxes? If you can remember that…just how would you have dealt with mandated minimum wages of $20/hour on top of the regressive GE Taxes?
      I suggest you actually learn some economics…you can start with Hazlitts book Economics in One Lesson. Here’s a free PDF for you: https://fee.org/media/14946/economicsinonelesson.pdf
      RG DeSoto

    2. Doug December 31, 2018 3:57 pm Reply

      Well, let’s see……..$20 in Australian dollars = $14.08 American dollars to start. Then, according to a different article on Australia, as of July 2018 the lowest paid full-time adult workers in Australia receive AUD$17.70 per hour, which is roughly $11.16 in US dollars when you take account purchasing power parity into account. So right now (unless they have had another minimum wage boost), the Aussie minimum wage is $11.16 USD per hour, not $20 USD per hour……..

  16. WestKaui December 30, 2018 10:57 am Reply

    Of course, when the cost of goods and services are raised due to the increased minimum wage, those lower wage workers are less able to afford their basic needs…

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