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Civil Beat Column: How A Living Wage Would Help Lots Of Hawaii Workers

More than half of the children in the state have a parent earning below $17 per hour.

A living wage in Hawaii is $17 an hour. A living wage means earning enough to pay for one’s housing, food and utility expenses — just the basics — from working 40 hours a week.

A business lobby funded by the Republican-aligned billionaire Koch brothers, the National Federation of Independent Business, recently touted that only 2% of workers in our state earn $10.10 per hour or less. This argument overlooks the 35% of Hawaii workers who make less than a living wage — $17 per hour — but more than $10.10.

Some workers make $10.11 per hour, some make $10.12, some make $13, some $15. All of these workers are earning below a living wage — they aren’t earning enough to pay for their basic needs — and deserve attention.

Not counting these workers earning wages “at or below the minimum wage” ignores the harsh realities facing these families. This business lobby’s stance renders their circumstances irrelevant.

Large Population Impacted

The group earning above $10.10 per hour and below $17 includes more than 250,000 Hawaii residents. More than half of Hawaii’s keiki have a parent earning below $17 per hour.

Raising the minimum wage to a living wage would directly give raises to more than 40% of all the people of color in Hawaii, including more than 45% of all Native Hawaiians.

Ala Moana Center, pictured above in 2015, is a major location for retail jobs, where many workers are earning a minimum wage — but not enough to survive.

The focus on just the “at or below minimum wage” workers is an attempt to minimize the perceived benefit that raising the minimum wage to a living wage would have.

This limited perspective makes it clear that corporate interests are scared of Hawaii adopting a truly Democratic principle and are willing to blur the truth to get their way. Blurring this truth is also an admission that if the vast benefits were made clear and placed front and center, raising the minimum wage would be a no-brainer.

Democrats Support Raising The Wage

These benefits are the reason the Democratic Party of Hawaii made raising the minimum wage its number one priority in 2019.

This is why U.S. representatives from all across the country voted in favor of establishing a nationwide $15 minimum wage for all workers by 2024. This includes Hawaii Reps. Ed Case and Tulsi Gabbard and others, from deep red Mississippi and Louisiana and even in Mitch McConnell’s own Kentucky.

This is also why more than two-thirds of Americans support at least a $15 minimum wage nationwide, including 86% of Democratic voters.

The unfortunate truth is that one of the business lobby’s talking points does stand: Raising the minimum wage will not drive everybody into the middle class.

It will simply push many families from destitution to a level of self-sufficiency, a level where they can afford their basic needs without depending on taxpayers and others for help or falling further into debt.

The time is now to end this disgrace to our values and this dereliction of duty by our elected officials.

Hopefully our local state Democratic legislators won’t continue to be swayed by long discredited Republican lobbyist talking points and instead stand with workers and give them the raises they need.

The well-being of our people depends on it.


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