HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This is a complex, multifaceted issue that has no easy, singular answer. Our high cost of living, lack of available and affordable housing, reliance on imported goods and energy, and other factors must also be discussed when discussing "living wage". When raising the minimum wage, many businesses will have to choose between raising prices, laying off workers or a combination of both. These businesses, particularly small businesses, don't have the ability to absorb the increased costs.
Hawaii's Prepaid Healthcare mandate costs businesses and adds to an employee's overall wages/benefits package. Hawaii is the only state with this mandate for all employees working 20 hours or more per week. When the price of healthcare benefit is added to the hourly wage, the total is $14.47 per full-time employee. Hawaii has one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates in the country at under 2%. To attract and retain employees, employers must ensure that their salary and benefits package is competitive, which is why many employers offer above-minimum wage starting salaries, as well as other benefits.
One of the ways we are supporting a more targeted approach to helping low wage earners' upward mobility in the workforce is our Sector Partnerships initiative, in conjunction with the University of Hawaii, which brings together public and private partners to find the areas in different sectors where employment needs are not currently being met by the educational system and how these partners can work together to fix that and turn out qualified and ready employees to the market.
Economic studies have shown that mandatory wage hikes price the lowest skilled workers out of jobs. If companies are forced to pay higher wages, they will seek workers with skills to match.