Executive Summary

Hawaiʻi’s post-COVID-19 economy should be one in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive. The design of this new economy must be informed by an understanding that the old economic order had been failing many Hawaiʻi residents for decades. It featured ever-widening gaps between wages and the cost of living and persistent inequity in the ability to build household financial security. Essential household costs—housing, childcare, transportation, health care, and technology—have been growing faster than general inflation, with the increase in housing costs outpacing all others.

Ominously, the number of low-income workers who barely make ends meet from one month to the next (the “ALICE population”) continued to be substantial, even as the economy flourished and unemployment was low. Too many residents responded to Hawaiʻi’s lack of job opportunities and high costs by relocating to states that offered better economic prospects.

This “chartbook” highlights trends of increasing economic inequity in Hawaiʻi. Part 1 focuses on wages and jobs, while Part 2 addresses household costs.

Establishing a more equitable economy that increases opportunities and provides incomes that outpace rising costs is challenging but necessary in order to make Hawaiʻi the kind of place we all want it to be. Smart public policy is the solution for building opportunities to secure a better future for working families and an economy that leads to a better life for all Hawaiʻi residents. We need to address at least these priorities:


Local residents need homes that are safe and affordable. The construction of workforce housing can be an immediate economic stimulus, while the availability of housing is a linchpin for future economic growth and diversity. In addition, studies point to enhanced economic mobility for low-income families who live in mixed-income neighborhoods.


Working people in Hawaiʻi deserve to have jobs that provide economic security without having to sacrifice time for family, community, and leisure. Alternative income supports and public works projects need to be considered as jobs in the old economy give way to technology and changing demand.


The best investment Hawaiʻi can make in its future is to ensure that every child has access to high-quality public school, from pre-K to an advanced degree. Studies show the lifelong economic benefits of good early learning. Access to many of the kinds of jobs that provide economic security and personal satisfaction depend on opportunities to get affordable skills training or graduate from an institution of higher education. Expanding education jobs also enhances economic diversity and sustainability.


Improving and expanding Hawaiʻi’s infrastructure for transportation, water, waste, and broadband information technology builds the foundation for a productive economy and environmental sustainability. Investments here, as with housing development, support immediate and long-term economic growth.


Healthy residents and the economy that supports them need a reliable, affordable supply of healthy food. Supporting the expansion of local agriculture is an economic investment that increases Hawaiʻi’s food security.


Good health depends on positive social and economic conditions. Ensuring that people have decent housing, paying jobs, quality education, and good food will reduce health care costs and absenteeism. Access to timely, affordable health care is a continuing goal that has the added benefit of supporting a growing, sustainable economic sector with jobs on every island.


Making Hawaiʻi the kind of place where people can live good lives isn’t just about incomes and material needs. Our policies must encourage widespread involvement in community and civic engagement activities, and they need to uphold accountability, transparency, and engagement on the part of our leaders.


A strong commitment to ensuring that the economy we’re rebuilding shares gains and opportunities equitably and fairly must inform all policies and investments. The priorities outlined here contribute to the social and economic inclusion and mobility that Hawaiʻi needs for a better future.

Download “Hawaiʻi Wages & Household Costs Chartbook”