How We Live: The pandemic didn’t drive him from Hawaii. It didn’t keep him here, either.

How We Live: The pandemic didn’t drive him from Hawaii. It didn’t keep him here, either.

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As an essential worker, Naea Ching was grateful he wasn’t laid off from his job in Costco’s bakery department during the pandemic.

The Oahu native and longtime Kapolei resident worked for the company for 11 years.

He enjoyed the friendship of his coworkers as well as the job security he earned. But earlier this year, he still made the tough decision to leave the islands for the mainland.

He booked his one-way ticket and took off for Seattle on Sept. 1, where he’s now preparing for a winter that’s considered freezing by Hawaii standards.

“It took a while to finalize everything and be OK with everything,” Ching said. “It was exciting, and then we got anxiety about it. And then when we got here, everything was OK.”

A driving force behind his decision was the pursuit of happiness in starting a new life with his boyfriend, Vincent La.

La, a Los Angeles native, met Ching during his time studying in Hawaii. He completed his OB-GYN residency at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, but struggled to find suitable work in Honolulu that would allow the couple to keep up with Hawaii’s sky-high cost of living.

Ching said La applied for a couple jobs on Oahu, but wasn’t selected for the one he really wanted.

“He got offered another (job) that actually didn’t pay as well as Seattle did. So for him, the pay, cost of living, that played into him moving out here,” Ching said.

La added, in a recent Zoom interview with Ching sitting by his side, “When this opportunity came up to move to another metropolitan, I was like, this is a refreshing opportunity.

“Both of us have never lived here, I’ve never even been to Seattle, and so I wanted to be able to make a future with this one.”

Together, they’re renting an apartment in the residential district of Capitol Hill on the outskirts of Downtown Seattle. La got a job in his field of practice, and Ching was able to get a transfer to a nearby Costco.

Their story is becoming an all too common occurrence: Hawaii residents are moving out of the islands and heading for the mainland in search of better paying jobs and a lower cost of living.

Carl Bonham, director of the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii, predicted earlier this year that some 30,000 Hawaii residents would leave the Aloha State by 2022 ― drawn by better opportunities and frustrated by Hawaii’s slow pace of economic recovery.

Others feel the longer Hawaii’s economic downturn drags on, that number could dramatically increase.

Seattle’s cost of living is relatively high on mainland standards, but still nowhere near Hawaii.

And the difference is enough for Ching and La to take notice.

“The cost of living up here is so much less than home. It’s just ridiculous,” Ching said. “There’s no taxes on groceries, but there is a really high tax on alcohol.”

One day the couple hopes to return to the islands. In the meantime, they’re making the most of their residency in a completely new state.

“Being that I’ve never lived outside of Hawaii in my entire life, I had major anxiety as the moving day got closer,” Ching said. “I feel that I’m adjusting better than I thought I would.”

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