Report: Hawaii's economic recovery hasn't helped state's poorest

Published: Apr. 13, 2016 at 8:15 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii Appleseed Center)
(Image: Hawaii Appleseed Center)
(Image: Hawaii Appleseed Center)
(Image: Hawaii Appleseed Center)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On the surface, Hawaii's economy looks like it's rebounded from the Great Recession.

Construction and tourism are up, unemployment is low, and the housing market is booming.

But dig a little deeper, a new report argues, and you'll find a state where many working families are still struggling to get by – and, in some cases, are worse off than they were before the economic downturn.

The report, from the non-profit Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, seeks to bring those struggles into focus, and show how low-income residents have fared as the economic has stabilized.

The picture isn't pretty:

  • Hawaii has the lowest wages in the country, when adjusted for cost of living.
  • The state has the sixth-highest poverty rate when cost of living is taken into account.
  • Compared to the wealthiest 1 percent, those at the bottom 20 percent spent almost twice as much of their income on taxes.
  • Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness, and an acute housing crisis.
  • 1 in 8 residents face food insecurity.
  • More than half of public school students are economically disadvantaged.

"The recovery did not touch everyone equally," said Victor Geminiani, co-executive director of Hawaii Appleseed. "People struggling before the recession were hit the hardest, and they still haven't recovered."

Gavin Thornton, Appleseed's other co-executive director, said the report's findings aren't surprising – but they are aimed at helping policymakers better understand the lives of Hawaii's poorest.

"It's really to try and understand the big picture," he said.

And to offer some solutions.

Those solutions, Thornton acknowledged, won't be easy. But he said one substantive way to help low-income residents is by relieving their tax burden.

The nonprofit is supporting House Bill 2166, which would expand the renters' income tax credit for low-income households. The measure is moving through the Legislature.

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