Waiwai Economics: Solid Investments for Lifetimes of Change


Photo: Chris Molina

By Chris Molina

“Mōhala i ka wai ka maka o ka pua; Unfolded by the water are the faces of the flowers.”

Child Poverty

Thriving kamaliʻi emerge from the aloha and mālama provided by their ʻohana and kaiāulu. Enriched nurturing experiences in early childhood are strongly related to positive outcomes across our lifespans. Positive experiences later in life can help kamaliʻi overcome the challenges of a beginning wherein social, emotional, or cognitive stimulation were limited.

However, it requires substantially more resources and time to regain ground than it does to provide a solid foundation.

Severely limited finances often lead to a lack of resources to support child development and may also contribute to stress in relationships between mākua and their kamaliʻi. In 2019, one in five Native Hawaiian kamaliʻi between the ages of 0-5 were raised in ʻohana with incomes below the poverty guideline for Hawaiʻi, and three in five were raised in homes without a livable income (a livable income only covers the basic needs of an ʻohana).

According to the large body of research summarized by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, lifting families out of poverty has lifelong benefits.

These include improvements in maternal and infant health, academic performance, college enrollment, and increased work and earnings for current and future generations. Tax credits are among the tools our society uses to lift ʻohana out of poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) are significant policy tools, in large part because they are refundable, which puts money back in the pockets of low-to-middle income working ʻohana.

According to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization, when the CTC was expanded during the pandemic, poverty for keiki in the Hawaiʻi was reduced by nearly half. The tax credits were essential lifelines for many ʻohana facing the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even ʻohana whose income does not require them to file a tax return may be able to take advantage of these credits.

Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT) is committed to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty for Native Hawaiians. We are expanding our array of programs and services to support mākua and kamaliʻi during early childhood to help ʻohana establish foundations that positively impact their own wellbeing and that of future generations.

For information about LT services and programs please visit our website at www.onipaa.org or contact our Mālama Line at (808) 466-7892.

Chris Molina is a strategic initiatives liaison at Liliʻuokalani Trust, focusing on services to our neighbor island kaiāulu. He was raised in Māʻili, Oʻahu, and has a degree in psychology with a social work minor from Pepperdine University, and is in the process of completing his Master’s in Social Work at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.