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.