Ninety-One Hours in a Work Week?!

Recently, the website, a financial literacy website with interesting visualizations about various financial topics, came out with a comparison called, “This is How Long You Need to Work to Live Comfortably in Every State.”

Those folks tried to calculate, for each state, the annual wage required to live comfortably, by earner, and the number of hours per week that an earner would need to work to earn it. “Hawaii is the single most difficult state for workers to get ahead,” they said, “requiring $96.1K to enjoy a comfortable life and 91-hour workweeks to get there.”

Huh?! A 91-hour workweek doesn’t sound like a comfortable life at all!

The second-highest jurisdiction where it costs the most to enjoy a comfortable living is Washington, DC, where it costs $78,310 and would require a 44-hour workweek to earn it. The number of hours in DC is much lower because people there, on average, make lots more per hour.

The next five places went to California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, with costs in the $60K range and workweeks between 51 and 63 hours.

Which means that we are way out of line compared to other states.

How did come to that conclusion? They said that they figured out the median wage for workers in 2018 in each state from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and then used numbers from the BLS to calculate average annual consumer expenditures. They added 20% to each state’s average to represent comfortable living.

Then, they divided that figure by the number of earners in an average household and obtained the annual expenditure per earner.

That amount was adjusted to each state’s cost of living using data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC, which is part of Missouri’s state government and seems to be their counterpart of Hawaii DBEDT’s Research and Economic Analysis Division or READ). The result was divided by the median wage, giving the number of hours needed to make that wage.

According to MERIC, Hawaii’s cost of living was 201.3 percent of, or double, the national average, with the primary problem being housing costs that punched in at a staggering 347.1 percent of the national average.

Our grocery costs were at 160.8, utilities at 185.2, transportation at 135.7, and health care at 120.3 percent of the national average respectively, earning us 52nd place, namely dead last, out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

The next most expensive cost-of-living jurisdictions were D.C. with 164, California with 140, Oregon with 137, and New York with 135 percent of the national average.

Although we might be able to quibble with some of the pieces of the methodology, like why they chose a 20% bump to represent a “comfortable life,” the underlying message of the study echoes what we have seen several times before regarding Hawaii’s cost of living in general and housing cost in particular.

You may also have noticed that our residents have been heading for the exits over the last few years (at least). If this keeps up, who is going to be left to pay for government?

Lawmakers take note! If you are seriously interested in making our state a better place to live and work, please make it a priority to do something to calm our raging cost of living, especially the cost of housing. Who can possibly work 91 hours a week to have a comfortable life? Or 76 hours a week (taking away the 20% bump) to have an average, uncomfortable life?


Tom Yamachika is president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.

  1. VintageVNvet December 22, 2019 5:08 am Reply

    First of all, there are 168 hours in every week, whether one works or not.
    Second of all, some of us actually did work 80 or 90 hours per week, for what were very low wages, such as the $1.25 per hour i was earning in the early 1960s when i first started working for wages,,, and i could still pay my parents $10 per week for room and board…
    Then i heard from an older guy how he worked from 0600 to midnight six days a week for 25 CENTS per hour to support his family…
    Ya gotta keep things in perspective, that’s far shore,,,

  2. Charlie Chimknee December 22, 2019 9:18 am Reply

    Hold on there “pardner”, If you gotta earn $96,000 per year to live here comfortably, you gotta pay another about 30% more in taxes…or almost $30,000 in taxes, or that means you need to work 121 hours a week to make $126,000 a year to live comfortably.

    If you work 7 days a week you only have to work 17+ hours a day. The calculator says minimum wage needs to be $20 per hour at 17 hours a day 365 days a year.
    There are people that do almost that…heroes of family and society…and grateful too considering where they flew in from.

    But here’s the break you don’t have to live comfortably in Hawaii, you can live below the poverty level.

    You don’t need a Gentleman Farm, nor a minimum cost $250,000 condo at Hokua Place behind the Kapa’a Middle School, where once in you only have to pay the mortgage of $1,300 a month, the monthly condo fee of $700 a month, property tax, insurance, and utilities, so once you get the $25,000 down payment together you only got to pay about $2,300 a month expenses then more expenses for car, gas, tires, repairs on the car to get you to your $12 an hour job at The Big Box stores making $2,000 a month and actual only $1,400 a month after taxes to pay your monthly house bill.

    Lucky your health care is provided wherein when you eat the “SAD” (Standard AMERICAN Diet) made up of Fast Food, Junk Food, and packaged and canned foods that have some food mixed in with the sugars and chemicals; soda and alcohol and sugar and caffeine drinks, and 3-5 decades of that and you have your ticket to enter Petrochemical Care at the hospital or doctor office.

    Drugs for health care are now pin pointed by the Pharmacists to confirm that they lead to secondary, 3rd, and 4th sequence of side effect diseases and more the “need” for more petrochemical medications…a vicious circle providing a shortened life span with suffering included…and why some call it HELLth Care.

    But now strapped with all that you have to get that “after work” and also weekend jobs to make ends meet and why the unlicensed carpenter, electrician, plumber need $50 to $85 and hour cash no taxes to fix your house, condo, or still standing plantation hale 140 years later where your Great Grand Parents were born and your same Great Grand Kids will be too.

    It’s amazing how this came to be working more hours and days a week today than the slaves did on the pyramids and the cotton and sugar plantations in the U.S. South and the the Caribbean and South and Central American eastern countries?

    It’s amazing how local being born and raised in families going back a 1,000 years have only a piece of earth the size of a tent in a County Park, while some who go back only a 150+ years actually have 50,000 acres on island and a few hundred new transplants are $Billionaires.

    What happened? Was it education by state and parental guidance and peer pressure that failed the few…and just what was it that made multi millionaires and billionaires that most of us missed out on.

    Was it a simple ethic of saving every worked for penny from youth until the pennies began to work for you? Was it mere inheritance where you live a life of luxury from diaper to dapper?

    Can someone analyze that, so it can be changed to more fair for the workers, and making all work…no slouches…!

    Did Kamehameha I, give away the aina too frivolously…? What about II, III, and IV…?

    Some ask why did the Aina and Bibles change hands…was the word of God
    that powerful?

    More important perhaps is can there be a an equitable fair to all reversal…?

    All that state land sitting empty and fallow…can it be shared with those without given including clean water and sanitation as in septic waste…no need electric if you really want to go native…well solar…is option…!

    If they can figure out how the bump on the ocean is our island, and the Tradewinds windward and leeward make the predominant weather, and where does the sun go in the winter…?

    Why can’t they figure out what went unfair and uncaring…and fix it…children raised in parks where garbage cans are closer than the bathrooms…public showers for women and little girls…there’s an inherent failure that so far our elected have not the skills to correct but only perpetuate.

    We need bold leaders…Derek can do this in the next almost 8 years he has by Re-election, and they in their perpetual turns, and our Oahu Messengers and Reps can do this I their almost perpetual turns.

    Will someone turn on the lights after they leave…?

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