2017 in review: Hawaii's booming but imperfect economy

2017 in Review: Hawaii's booming but imperfect economy
(Image: Hawaii News Now/File)
(Image: Hawaii News Now/File)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As we near the end of 2017, Hawaii News Now is taking a look back at ten of the biggest stories that emerged over the course of a turbulent year for Hawaii.

We begin with the story that impacted every resident of our state -- the booming economy.

On Thursday, Hawaii's unemployment rate hit an all-time low. But while the state's visitor industry remains on pace for its best year ever, and property values continue to rise, there are some clouds on the horizon -- and the price of paradise is still too high for many in Hawaii.

Hawaii's two-percent unemployment rate in November is likely the best in the country, with construction jobs showing the biggest jump over the course of 2017. Visitor spending, meanwhile, grew nearly 7 percent during the first ten months of 2017 to almost 14 billion dollars. 
The growth in the tourism sector wasn't without problems. With more than 700,000 tourists arriving across the Hawaiian Islands every month, 2017 also saw an increase in complaints about visitors, guided by social media, overrunning popular places putting themselves at risk.

"When these events happen, it really puts a strain on all of our first responders, and taxpayers end up fronting the bill," said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who represents the Kihei and Wailea areas.

Visitors also increasingly turned to accommodations outside resort areas and in neighborhoods as both legal and illegal vacation rentals boomed, putting even more pressure on housing prices and availabity for residents. While for-sale housing prices rose to their highest ever, the shortage of affordable rentals was declared a crisis.

The lack of housing continued to stoke Hawaii's homeless crisis. State and county governments got more aggressive this year against illegal squatters, with both more and better-coordinated enforcement efforts, but many of the people who were forced to move just found illegal housing elsewhere.

"Everybody like go where everybody going be, because safety," said Derek Stabilio, who has been homeless for more than a decade. "So it's like where the majority goes."

Next year, economists predict slower but continued growth, and inflation is expected to rise even as census data indicates residents are leaving Hawaii in order to find higher paying jobs and a lower cost of living.

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