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Civil Beat Column: Hawaii Losing Out Because Of Low Wage Jobs

Throw ethical arguments out the window, and consider the minimum wage Fight for $15 from a business perspective - we should sell goods and services at a price above what they cost to produce. Imagine a rental company that spends $30,000 a year in upkeep on its products. Now, imagine this company rents their products out for only $21,000. The company loses $9,000 annually because of this. There is not a company in the world that would operate with margins like this, yet Hawaii is following exactly this business model with its residents.

The current cost of living in Hawaii is $30,000 for one adult, but we only make corporations pay $21,000 for a full-time minimum wage worker. This results in a $9,000 “survival gap”, a margin our state should not accept. This gap does not simply go away because someone makes a low wage. The $9,000 difference is inevitably paid by Hawaii’s residents through social programs and unmet basic needs. Having our workers available at a discount is a losing business strategy for the state and our residents, costing us billions each year. SB2291 offers the ability to correct this mistake by making corporations pay the true cost of the workforce that they get.

More than 40 percent of all jobs in Hawaii pay below a living wage. This widespread legal exploitation of our workers means we all have to sacrifice to help low-wage earners make ends meet and be able to show up to work everyday; whether it's the state using taxpayer money to pay for health care for a young family; children unable to spend time with their mom because she is working two jobs; or an aunty selflessly offering up her couch for a single dad to sleep on. We shouldn’t need to sacrifice to help full-time workers though. They should be paid enough to help themselves.

Hawaii has reached historically low unemployment levels following the latest minimum wage hikes. An increase to $15 would strengthen our labor market even further, guaranteeing all full-time workers will earn at least $30,000. This will take the burden of helping workers survive away from the taxpayers and the state, and put it fairly back on the corporations that profit off the labor.

Fortunately, dozens of state legislators have recognized this reality and signaled their support for SB2291. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party’s leaders and committee chairs determine the fate of these bills as they are the gatekeepers to the democratic process. This means it’s important for Senator Dela Cruz ( - 808.586.6090) to know that the people want this bill to pass. He needs to schedule it to be heard by the March 2nd deadline or it will die without even getting a vote. After that, Senator Kouchi and Representatives Luke and Saiki will need to push for this bill to become law.

The minimum wage has not effectively adjusted to match our highest in the nation cost of living, leaving nearly half of our households unable to meet their basic needs. We need to treat our working families better. We need to run our state business better.


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