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Civil Beat Column: Hawaii’s Low Minimum Wage Hurts Everybody

On this tax filing weekend, thousands of local residents will come face-to-face with the reality of how little they made last year compared to how much it costs to live here in Hawaii.

This is a result of Hawaii’s worst in the nation minimum wage, which stifles the wages of everybody in the state.

If companies were required to pay at least a living wage for an entry level position, workers with more skills and experience would be able to demand wages well beyond that number. Due to our exploitative minimum wage, people with degrees and decades of experience are still unable to find decent paying jobs. With a higher minimum wage, all local workers will feel the benefit.

Honolulu Kakaako Collection Condo Waterfront Towers condominiums. Expensive housing is just one of the downsides of living in such an expensive place. So is our awful minimum wage level.

With depressed wages, there is also less income for the state to tax, leaving Hawaii with one of the highest tax rates in the nation but near the bottom in actual tax revenue. This has left us with failing infrastructure and underfunded schools.

The Democratic Party platform has recognized the positive impact of raising the minimum wage and has called for increasing it to $15 per hour nationwide, but yet Hawaii still sits at a paltry $10.10.

Many states and cities, both liberal and conservative, have increased their minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living. Arizona and Maine, states with Republican governors, will reach $12 per hour and beyond. California, Washington, D.C., and New York are some of the many areas that will get to $15 per hour in a few years.

The Most Expensive State

Here in Hawaii, the most expensive state in the country, the Legislature has been unwilling to come close to that mark. Even at a time when unemployment is at record lows, and poverty is widespread, our minimum wage is stagnant at the equivalent of only $21,000 per year.

The cost of simply affording one’s basic needs in Hawaii is estimated at around $32,000 or more for a single adult, leaving hundreds of thousands of full-time workers with far less than what they need to survive.

We’ve allowed multinational and billion-dollar corporations to pay wages well below what’s needed to afford our basic needs, and our working families have paid the cost. We have paid the cost by living in multigenerational households.

We have paid by working multiple jobs. We have paid by living in substandard housing. We have paid by leaving Hawaii to search for a better life on the mainland.

We need to secure a future where all workers are able to afford their basic needs. We need to make sure that our keiki won’t need to leave the islands just to make enough to survive. The time to give our workers the raises they deserve is now.

Workers wanting higher wages can join the movement this Saturday at noon in Kapiolani Park and Voters can also find on the website alist of legislators and candidates that have committed their support for a livable wage.


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