Hawaiians & the Economy: We’re in The Same Boat as Everyone!


Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-LargeWhenever I visit mainland cities, I’m delighted to run into kamaʻaina. For example, when I go to conferences in Las Vegas, I am frequently greeted with “Aloha, Uncle!” by hotel workers or employees in restaurants who hail from Hawaiʻi. On trips as far away as Washington, D.C., I’ve joined in celebrations with Hawaiian Civic Clubs and have been entertained by hula hālau.

According to recent census figures, nearly half of all Hawaiians now live on the mainland. This growing trend reflects that Hawaiʻi now has one of the highest rates of long-term residents leaving home. While most leave to seek better opportunities, many of their stories are tinged with sadness.

For example, Chelsea, an OHA beneficiary, writes from Tacoma, Washington: “Here I purchased a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a garage, large yard and street parking for $280,000. It is six houses away from a great elementary school. My grocery bill is about $120 a week; it provides three full meals, snacks and extras daily. I have extra money and can help support my sister’s kids.” But as wonderful as Chelsea’s new opportunities on the mainland are, she continues… “I wish we could go back. I miss the beach, the food, the sun, the people… but realistically, what I see for myself and my family I no longer see in Hawaiʻi.”

Ashlynn, another kanaka who has moved to the mainland, writes… “In Hawaiʻi, we could never think of owning a home, but here in Arizona we actually have a chance to be able to buy a home. As hard as it was to leave Hawaiʻi, we knew we had to do better for our daughter.”

Chelsea’s and Ashlynn’s stories underscore a serious problem. Even though Hawaiians have access to resources from OHA, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the Aliʻi trusts, and various government programs, we are still part of an economy that is not working as it should.

n Hawaiʻi, the cost of living, especially housing, makes it difficult for many to make ends meet. Solving the cost of living problem is essential to improving the conditions of the Hawaiian people. And to solve it, we have to recognize that it is not simply our problem, but everyone’s problem. When it comes to the economy, we are all in the same boat. Therefore, we need to consider major solutions that make it possible for all to earn a reasonable living.

One solution worth mentioning is to increase the supply of housing to bring the cost of housing down. In Hawaiʻi less than 5% of all land is used for housing and urban development. A small but reasonable increase of that figure could enable construction of significantly more housing to address the high demand. There are ways to do this without damaging the environment nor limiting agriculture. Simply updating our land use policies according to best practices would make this possible. This is just one of many macro solutions that can benefit all residents.

The point I’m trying to make is that if we work to do good for all people of Hawaiʻi, we end up helping Hawaiians. The solutions Hawaiians need for housing, jobs, education and health care go well beyond the resources of Hawaiian serving organizations. These solutions are not possible without a healthy overall economy. To use another boat analogy, the way to raise the water level of one boat is to raise the water level of all boats.

I’ll be writing more on this in future columns.

E hana kākou/Lets Work Together!