$13 by 2024 is not a ‘good first step’

Anyone working 40 hours a week, deserves to earn a wage sufficient to provide a dry and safe place to sleep, 3 meals a day and basic health care.

Readers who do not agree with the above statement might as well stop right here. I acknowledge there are those who agree but differ on “the way to get there.” For you folks, I welcome the discussion and even more so welcome your tangible, specific suggestions on how in fact we “get there.”

The Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has determined that for a single person without children the hourly wage needed to simply “subsist” is approximately $17.50 per hour (plus or minus depending on the island, etc). Note this is the state of Hawaii’s official “subsistence wage” and includes no-frills whatsoever … just the basics of staying alive.

Hawaii has the second-highest homeless rate per capita in the entire United States.

Our current minimum wage sits at $10.10 per hour and nearly 50% of our residents live on the very edge of poverty.

Almost everyone is working two jobs or more, simply etching out a life devoid of the “extras” so many of us take for granted. Thank god we have our warm weather and beautiful natural environment to help get us through the days.

This past week, Hawaii House and Senate leaders, with the support of Gov. David Ige, announced a list of proposals intended to support Hawaii’s low income working families and those at the bottom end of the economic ladder.

With much fanfare, they announced as a “good first step” their plan to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2024.

Lets do the math. In their own press release, the Legislature and the governor talk of studies that show how single individuals and families are struggling to make $28,296/77,052 a year.

Unfortunately the $13 an hour they propose by 2024 doesn’t actually add up to helping anyone get even to that lowest threshold. $13 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year add up to only $27,040. The inadequacy of the $13 per hour offer is even more apparent when you calculate the inflation which will accrue between now and 2024.

Remember, a subsistence wage NOW is $17.50 per hour and nearly half of our population lives on the edge of poverty.

And here we are listening to the magnanimous offer of $13 — in 2024.

A little historical context is also in order:

Ninety percent of the legislators attending the press conference and the governor himself has in the past said publicly they supported at least $15 an hour. The official position of the Democratic Party of Hawaii is in support of a $15 per hour minimum wage (and yes virtually 100% of the political leadership in Hawaii is a Democrat). And the most recent “position” of the Hawaii Senate (via HB1191 SD2) was $15 per hour by 2023.

So no, $13 per hour in 2024 is not a “good first step,” unless of course, the intent is to step backward. And no, the “other elements of the package” (tax credits and housing initiatives) do not replace the basic need to pay people fair wages for a fair day’s work.

“A good first step” is allowing legislators to publicly vote on what a clear and strong majority have said they publicly support, which is at least $15 per hour.

An even better first step would be passing a measure that reaches the $17 target and includes annual cost of living increases. That is the step Hawaii’s working families need and the only step that will ensure they eventually achieve a true living wage.

My thought is that the governor and the legislative leadership in the House and Senate, perhaps viewed their announcement as the start of a conversation only, and starting at $13 per hour is simply a negotiating position.

Small businesses that fear negative impacts from having to increase their workers wages need only look at the recent history in Hawaii for reassurance.

When Hawaii’s minimum wage was increased from $7.25 to $10.10, there were no increases in bankruptcy, no increases in unemployment and no increases in inflation (outside the normal trend).

It is well past the time that everyone in Hawaii who works 40 hours a week can afford a dry safe place to live, eat 3 meals a day, and go to the doctor when they are sick. Anything less is immoral and unacceptable.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality 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. Ken Conklin January 22, 2020 6:06 am Reply

    Hooser says “Anyone working 40 hours a week, deserves to earn a wage sufficient to provide a dry and safe place to sleep, 3 meals a day and basic health care. Readers who do not agree with the above statement might as well stop right here.”

    Well, I do not agree. And I am not stopping right there merely because Hooser prefers that I shut up.

    The age and circumstances of the worker must be taken into account. A teenage kid living with parents does NOT need to “earn a wage sufficient to provide a dry and safe place to sleep, 3 meals a day and basic health care.” The kid already has all of life’s basic needs provided by the parents. But what the kid DOES need is the personal growth obtained through the experience of showing up for work on time and meeting the expectations of a boss; and what the employer needs is an unskilled laborer performing simple tasks like mowing lawns or babysitting that might be beneath the aspirations of an adult who has experience and special skills.

    Furthermore, it’s not only unskilled teenagers who should be allowed to work and be available for employers to hire at less than a “living wage.” A pair of young adults living together, especially if they have no children or dependent elders, can share expenses so that together they earn enough to “provide a dry and safe place to sleep, 3 meals a day and basic health care” even if neither of them alone earns enough.

    Let’s use some commonsense before passing laws that needlessly burden employers and prevent people from having jobs available to them which enable them to step foot onto the bottom rung of the employment ladder.

    1. Valerie January 22, 2020 11:14 am Reply

      And yet so many adults work for barely over minimum wage especially in service industries like food service and retail businesses. Too many people are struggling and financially unable to makes ends meet working in our low wage jobs. They are not all teenagers.

      We are then left with subsidizing these low wage businesses by providing various types of food and housing assistance. Raise the wages and charge the customer accordingly. We cannot continue with an economy of the haves taking advantage of the have nots. Your work should pay the bills.

    2. AJC January 22, 2020 12:53 pm Reply

      Raising the Hawai‘i minimum wage to $17 an hour by 2024 would increase pay for a wide range
      of workers:
      • Only 4.5 percent of directly or indirectly affected workers would be teenagers. Over three in four (78.3 percent) of affected workers would be age 25 or older.
      • The majority of affected workers would be women (55.7 percent). Close to half of women working in Hawai‘i would be affected (47.8 percent).
      • 46.4 percent of Native Hawaiian workers, and 64.3 percent of Pacific Islander workers, would be affected by the minimum wage increase.
      • Over a quarter (28.7 percent) of affected workers would be parents. Over half (52.9 percent) of single parents would be affected.
      • Over half (51.1 percent) of affected workers have at least some college education.
      • Nearly two-thirds (65.8 percent) of retail workers, and over four in five (80.6 percent) of restaurant and food service workers would be affected.

  2. Da Shadow January 22, 2020 6:10 am Reply

    the State and County may want to consider these facts when they go after business owners, including TVR’s, who provide jobs (most of which far exceed minimum wages -existing and proposed).
    Council Bill 2767 proposes a dramatic hike in property taxes for those who employ many in managing vacation rentals. if this bill passes, many TVR owners will be forced to reduce hours/services which support so many local workers.
    It’s time the State & County realize the importance of EMPLOYMENT.

  3. commonsense January 22, 2020 11:07 am Reply

    I do not agree with Mr. Hooser. The most effective way to allow people to earn more is to decrease the cost of living ( lower taxes for both businesses and individuals, doing away with the waste within government and forming public/private partnerships).

    An increase in wages should be determined by the businesses paying the wages. Give businesses tax breaks and they can afford to pay their employees more. There is no place for government telling businesses how much to pay their employees. This breeds laziness and complacency for those that are getting paid a decent wage , but not providing acceptable work.

  4. Dt January 22, 2020 3:35 pm Reply

    It would be great if someone wrote articles from experience instead of standing on a soapbox. Gary, which business did you run in Hawaii? How much did you pay them (specifically, how much did you pay your least skilled worker)? When the minimum wage increased, how did it affect your business?

  5. Wil Welsh January 22, 2020 4:17 pm Reply

    Right on, Gary. To wait four years for a minimal raise is ridiculous. Inflation has skyrocketed in food and housing and remains high for gasoline. The national measurements for inflation don’t account for the rise in the cost of food or gasoline. People are having a hard time making ends meet. The tax structure isn’t helping as more and more siphons upward to the very rich and workers taxes, bottom line, go up. The State Gross Excise Tax raise doesn’t help anything, as it is a “progressive” tax that increases exponentially as it is spent multiple times. Raising the minimum wage significantly NOW is the least of what can be done, with incremental raises into the future. The current bill has the incremental part right, but the intervals are too far in between and the raises too small. We can do better!
    We who are the lucky ones can pay a bit more to benefit low-wage workers.

  6. Susan Oakley January 22, 2020 4:24 pm Reply

    In March 2012 the Center for Economic and Policy Research released a study showing the minimum wage should have reached $21.72 an hour by then: “If the minimum wage had continued to move with average productivity after1968, it would have reached $21.72 per hour in 2012–a rate well above the average production worker wage. If minimum-wage workers received only half of the productivity gains over the period, the federal minimum would be $15.34. Even if the minimum wage only grew at one-fourth the rate of productivity, in 2012 it would be set at $12.25.”


    The Economic Policy Institute reiterated what we’ve been hearing for years: that the income from economic growth has gone to the top 1%, while the rank-and-file shares have declined. Thirty years ago “CEOs of large public companies made salaries 45 times as large as the pay median workers in their industries. By 2018, they made 278 times as much. It seems awfully unlikely this was driven entirely by CEOs’ own productivity.”


  7. Charlie Chimknee January 23, 2020 12:09 am Reply

    Gary, like so many, you confuse the medical myth that medical care is Health care…it is not, it is disease care.

    Health Care is what you actively do every day to stay Healthy and as a result if you are effective, not need medical care or its common use of drugs and surgery treatments.

    Much of Real Health Care is FREE, while much also costs money too, like healthy food and drink.

    Free is Sun, Water, Air, Rest and Exercise. Though safe and un polluted May take effort to find…though somewhat easier on Kauai, there are reports though by EWG, Environmental Work Group, that our Water DEPT water has pollutants, even carcinogenic, that needs competent qualified 3rd party investigating, and if so, removing of those chemicals. Are they left over or current plantation ag chemicals…? Many Kaua’ians are curious.

    Standard food available, is not very conducive to health nor provides much nutrition due to processing, and is loaded with synthetic chemicals and addictive sugar (for sissies); nutritious food is not found by casual shopping. Reggie, corn is said to be 48% protein, while beef contains only 44%…and all this time so many have been led a stray (.pun intended).

    Disease Care is what you go to after you are sick or diseased, and where your disease is kept chronic by symptom masking drugs, or eliminated synthetically with immune system weakening drugs like antibiotics, when in fact you can make your own antibiotics if left alone to do its own job.

    Injury or trauma care is another category. Though trauma can be from a lifetime of relying on disease care and animal fat in meat or from sugar conversion to fat to,your arteries and heart, instead of pushing your own health care…heart attack and stroke come to mind from neglecting your own health.

    Health Care is what you do that improves or maintains your Health every time you do it.

    Live natural chemical free unprocessed no sugar food and drink along with exercise is extremely important. So some ingestión of animal special type of food and on occasion can be beneficial in moderation.

    Learning about your body’s cells, tissues, organs, and their systems is a health activity as it is that ounce of Prevention that’s worth a pound of cure or keeping away from doctors’ drugs and surgery.

    Early screenings lead to earlier prescription use and dependency, and can cause diseases according to pharmacists and TV drug ads about side effects.

    To each his own, but Health is your own, your Health belongs to you, not your doctor, you must actively work on being Healthy to be Healthy And to stay Healthy. Ounce of Prevention beats a pound of cure.

    Avoiding the causes of Diseases is important for Health. So study what the causes are. Start with junk fast food, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs of any kind…get over it if you use them. If you use them you will Eventually become weak and diseased…ask your doctor…they have experience treating people who live like that.

    We have a lot to learn and can learn from those people who so frequently love plus and minus 100 years in Kekaha and Waimea and seem so many are of the Asian descent.

    Sadly it is too late to learn from them after their early passing of those only living to 40-50-60,a handful of decades only. Maybe their doctors have kept track of not only their drug prescriptions but also their diet and exercise.

    Hospitals should report monthly the situation of those passing, their ages, male or female, cultural background, job type (physically active or desk work), medications taken, and diet style. It would be helpful for those still surviving.

    Raising minimum helps afford nutritious food.

  8. manawai January 23, 2020 9:05 am Reply

    “And yet so many adults work for barely over minimum wage especially in service industries like food service and retail businesses. Too many people are struggling and financially unable to makes ends meet working in our low wage jobs. They are not all teenagers.”

    To prevent the above, people need to stay in school, forgo pot, etc. and actually learn things. They need to learn to act and speak properly, civilly, so they are attractive to employers who pay higher salaries. Loosing that entitled “you own me” mentality helps a lot when applying for employment and keeping it.

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