Poll: Hawaii residents say they’re buckling under strain of state’s high cost of living

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Published: Mar. 14, 2019 at 11:36 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Based on all outward appearances, Hawaii’s economy appears to be humming along. Unemployment is low, tourism is up, construction is booming and wages are rising.

Despite all that, Hawaii residents are increasingly discouraged about their lives and their futures ― and worried about how the next generation will fare in the islands, according to a new survey.

The causes of their discontent are wide-ranging, but not all that surprising: The state’s high cost of living is a significant source of concern along with a lack of opportunities for themselves and their children, wages that aren’t keeping up rising prices, and a dissatisfaction with leaders and problems at home and in Washington, D.C.

The biggest takeaway from the survey is simple: While the overall economy in the islands might be doing well, the personal economies of Hawaii’s residents appear to be faltering.

Just 35 percent of those polled said they were much or somewhat better off financially than they were the year before. In 2015, that figure was 50 percent.

And a staggering 45 percent said that someone in their household had left the islands or considered it.

The most likely groups to be planning a move to the mainland included families that have children in private school and middle-class households.

The single-biggest reason for leaving the state or planning to? You guessed it: The high cost of living.

"We are looking at voters who are feeling squeezed more than we see in any other jurisdiction in the country," said Lisa Grove, a partner at ALG Research, which conducted the poll for construction industry consortium Pacific Resource Partnership.

“How much it costs to live in paradise is pushing people to the brink. Voters are feeling like they are not keeping their heads above water. They are concerned about the high cost of housing. They are concerned about making ends meet here. And a good number of them are considering leaving.”

When asked what would make their lives better, 4 in 10 Hawaii voters said lower costs for just about everything would help. Some also wanted to see lower taxes, better job opportunities and higher wages.

“You need to have at least two jobs, sometimes three ... just to kind of get by,” said Hilo resident Terran Kaleiwahea.

Ewa Beach resident Brittany Johnson agreed, and said the long hours and constant worries are taxing.

“Me and my husband have even considered maybe living here for another three or four years and calling it quits,” she said.

There are some bright spots in the poll. Hawaii residents gave high marks to the state’s transition to clean, renewable energy and roughly one third said Hawaii had improved its ability to handle natural disasters.

But a full 79 percent of those polled said homelessness had gotten worse over the last couple years, and 71 percent said the inventory of affordable housing had further dwindled.

Also of concern: More than half of residents said crime and drug abuse is getting worse, and nearly 4 in 10 voters said it had gotten harder to secure affordable, quality health care coverage.

[Read more: In the market? You now need to earn nearly $160K to buy a home on Oahu]

[Read more: Hawaii’s population declined for a second year. The reason: People leaving for the mainland]

Kyle Chock, interim executive director of Pacific Resource Partnership, said the poll was commissioned as a way to take a pulse of the islands ― and create a greater awareness among community leaders about the day-to-day lives of Hawaii families.

“People are feeling like there are two Hawaiis now ― one for people who are the haves and one for people who are still trying to move up the economic ladder,” he said.

He said as a father of two young children, he’s also worried about what opportunities the next generation will have in the islands.

“Those are the young people who are going to hopefully fuel that innovation and be part of the workforce in the future ― so that was disheartening that they’re thinking that they are in lower class and there may not be that kind of future for them in Hawaii,” he said.

The survey polled 942 registered voters across the state in February. It has a margin of error of 3.2 percent.

This story will be updated.

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