Raising our Economic Quality of Life

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Keola Lindsey: Trustee Hawaiʻi Island

An article in our local newspaper connected a recently completed project here on Hawaiʻi Island with the creation of over 1,000 jobs.

Communities across the state are familiar with the project planning process. Folks come in and hold a meeting to talk about the need for the project, jobs, and other details like economic benefits and how social, cultural, and environmental concerns can be addressed.

“Creating jobs” is certainly important but it isn’t everything and it is an abstract term that doesn’t seem to have any “teeth.” If an approved project does not provide the number of jobs it said it would, does the building have to come down?

Jobs are just one issue that may help folks decide whether they are for or against a project. There are certainly many others. We are at a point where communities are asking questions. “What kind of jobs?” “How much do they pay?” “If this project does move forward how can people from our community get those promised jobs?”

These are the kinds of questions project proponents need to be prepared to answer – and they should expect to be held accountable to provide what is promised.

One long-standing concept that is emphasized today is a living wage vs. minimum wage. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition Out of Reach 2021 report, a renter in Hawaiʻi needs to earn about $38/hour on average to afford a two-bedroom unit and cover other necessities. Our current state minimum wage is $10.10/hour. The federal minimum wage, unchanged since 2009, is just $7.25.

And yet as our cost of living continues to soar, it seems the workforce has become empowered to a degree. I don’t have statistics to support this, just my own observations. Help wanted ads now offer hiring bonuses. People I talk to at the grocery store lament their challenges with finding workers (I don’t ask them what they pay); others complain about their long wait for food at a restaurant short on help.

The devastating impacts of COVID-19 on the tourism industry drove calls for the diversification of our economy, combining the introduction of new industries and promotion of familiar ones – all with a foundation of sustainability and responsibility to this place we call home. We still have the opportunity to achieve that vision and build a brighter future for our children.

The economic stability direction of OHA’s 15-year strategic plan seeks to help families meet living needs. Two strategies are in place, each with a set of outcomes. I am confident that the Board of Trustees and Administration will continue to work with our community leaders and partners to see these outcomes achieved.

OHA has provided grant funding to support a program that seeks to raise the household income of families by providing licensing, certifications, training, and assistance. A separate grant was awarded to another organization to support a program that provides entry-level opportunities for those who want to commit to a career in conservation. These are steps in a positive direction. There is much more to be done.

There is a saying with several variations attributed to historical figures that goes, “find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Pololei (correct). But if that love can also pay the mortgage and support the kids with money left for a fresh poke bowl and a bag of poi on Friday afternoon? Maikaʻi nō.