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Civil Beat Column: It Is Simply Impossible To Survive On $21,000 A Year

Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the U.S. When adjusted for the cost of living, our minimum wage of $10.10 an hour is one of the lowest in the country.

Our cost of housing is the highest in the country. It is impossible to survive on $21,000 a year in Hawaii.

For the past two years, advocates of a living wage ($17.63 an hour, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism) have been seeking a $17 an hour minimum wage so that people can survive here.

A living wage allows an individual to have shelter, food, and access to basic health care. A wage of $17 an hour equates to $34,000 a year.

We have a huge number of unhoused people with many more on the verge of living on the streets. Hawaii’s home prices have risen steadily over the last three decades because we are now part of the global housing market.

Locals have to compete with monied folks from all over the world. Locals don’t stand a chance.

Maui just came out with a study that 25% of homes are owned by non-residents. And many of those homes are principally investments, not places to live in year-round.

The state Senate chamber at the Capitol. Lawmakers are considering increasing the minimum wage from the current $10.10 and hour to $13 an hour by 2024. The author argues that’s just not enough.

A living wage would allow more folks to stay here and afford housing. It would also enable them to afford a more sustainable lifestyle and purchasing choices, such as organic and local produce, bulk quantities, recycled paper, non-toxic cleaning products, energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, a hybrid or electric car. And maybe to make their voices heard about the effects of climate change on them, by allowing folks to not have to work 60 to 80 hours a week.

And looming over everything is the climate emergency that almost daily brings us terrifying news of weather-related disasters. Is there a connection between the climate emergency and a living wage? Yes.

The people on the frontline of climate change are mostly poor, people of color, and predominantly women. The people least responsible for the climate emergency.

These people will not be able to escape to a second home or build a seawall along their beachfront estate. They are stuck and will suffer disproportionately. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

It’s 1929 All Over Again

The U.S. is suffering the greatest income inequality since 1929. Many Americans are now also on the frontlines of climate change: flooding in Texas and Louisiana, hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida, drought in the West, wildfires in Alaska and California and the Pacific Northwest, coastal erosion in Hawaii and Florida, intense heat almost everywhere.

And this is not a coincidence. Great income inequality means the poor get poorer, the rich get richer. The poor become almost entirely voiceless in a political sense. Only the rich get their voices heard. And the rich can escape the most severe aspects of the climate emergency in their private jets and yachts, their multiple homes.

A wage of $17 an hour equates to $34,000 a year.

Raising the minimum wage to $17 an hour gives the working poor a chance to rent, or in the best case, a chance to buy a home. A home offers some shelter from the ravages of the climate emergency, as long as it’s not on the coastline.

Let’s raise the minimum wage so that locals can survive here. So that they don’t have to move to the mainland to make a living wage.

And so that they can deal with the consequences of our deteriorating climate by having a place to stay. Isn’t that what we all want?


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