Hawaii incomes are on the rise, but so is the state’s cost of living and especially the housing costs, which remain the highest in the country.
That’s the latest from the U.S. Census Bureau, which released its annual American Community Survey for 2015, including data on income, poverty housing, housing and health insurance.
“The data continue trends seen in Hawaii for at least a decade,” said Eugene Tian, chief state economist with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Tian said the figures indicate that Hawaii’s economy is improving overall and doing better than the nation as a whole in some areas, led by increases in household income and family income.
The 2015 median household income, including single-member households, was $73,486, which was close to $4,000 more than 2014, while the median family income rose to $83,823 — more than $4,500 over the previous year.
NEW CENSUS DATA
From the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. About 1.8 percent of Hawaii’s population was surveyed in 2015:
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME
An increase from the inflation-adjusted amount of $69,615 in 2014, making Hawaii the third highest in the nation.
PEOPLE IN POVERTY
A decrease from 11.4 percent in 2014, ranking Hawaii 45th lowest in the nation. The number of families in poverty also decreased to 6.9 percent from 7.8 percent in 2014.
PEOPLE WITH NO HEALTH INSURANCE
A drop from 5.3 percent in 2014, ranking Hawaii fourth lowest in the nation.
MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME
An increase from the inflation- adjusted amount of $79,271 in 2014, making Hawaii the eighth highest in the nation.
MEDIAN MONTHLY COST TO RENT A HOME
An increase from $1,448 in 2014, ranking Hawaii the highest in the nation.
MEDIAN MONTHLY MORTGAGE COST
An increase from $2,175 in 2014, ranking Hawaii the third highest in the nation.
MEDIAN HOUSING VALUE
An increase from $528,000 in 2014, ranking Hawaii the highest in the nation.
Hawaii’s median household income was the third highest in the nation, up from the fifth highest in 2014, while the median family income was eighth in the nation, Tian said.
While those lofty figures sound impressive, keep in mind that Hawaii’s households tend to be larger than the average mainland household.
With more Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders, the islands average three people per household, compared to just two on the mainland, Tian said.
Another figure in the survey that doesn’t show the whole story is the percent of people in poverty. That number decreased to 10.6 percent in 2015 from 11.4 percent in 2014, ranking Hawaii as the 45th lowest in the nation for percent of people in poverty.
In addition, the percent of families in poverty decreased to 6.9 percent in 2015 from 7.8 percent in 2014.
However, a more accurate poverty figure was released by the Census Bureau just the week before, said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst with the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center in Honolulu.
The yearly “supplemental poverty measure” includes the cost of living in its matrix. That means some 229,000 people don’t make enough to meet Hawaii’s cost of living rather than the 149,000 accounted for in the latest survey.
The higher figure also boosts Hawaii’s poverty ranking to ninth highest in the country, Woo said.
The Hawai‘i Appleseed Center, a nonprofit law firm that advocates on behalf of the poor, issued an updated report on poverty in Hawaii earlier this year, showing that while some indicators have improved, many families continue to struggle.
According to the report, Hawaii has the highest cost of living but the lowest wages in the country when adjusted for the amount of money it takes for a family to get by here.
“One in six Hawaii residents live in poverty,” Woo said. “We can see it on our streets. There are a lot of folks who don’t make ends meet.”
But Tian contends that Hawaii’s homelessness problem has not increased. He said the numbers are holding steady at around 7,000.
Tian said the problem has simply become more visible as many of the homeless have moved from Waianae and other rural areas to the urban core of Honolulu.
Contributing to the poverty issue are the housing costs, and Hawaii remains at the top or near the top in several categories.
The state’s median monthly costs for renter-occupied housing increased to $1,500 in 2015 from $1,448 in 2014. That once again put Hawaii on top in the U.S. for median gross rent.
Broken down by both county and by housing units with number of bedrooms, Honolulu far outpaced the state in median rents.
Honolulu County had the highest median rent in all bedroom categories, from studio to three-bedroom, while Maui County consistently ranked second.
A studio on Kauai had a median rent of $566; it was nearly twice as much on Oahu. The median rent for a three-bedroom house in Hawaii County was only $1,315, but $2,408 on Oahu.
Meanwhile, the state’s median housing costs for owners with a mortgage rose to $2,248 in 2015 from $2,175 in 2014, the third highest in the country.
Hawaii also remained No. 1 in median housing value, with houses costing $566,900 — up from $528,000 in 2014.
According to a new category, there were nearly 30,000 owner-occupied housing units in Hawaii valued at $1 million or more. More than 5,000 of those were worth $2 million or more.
Honolulu County led the way with 24,276 homes worth $1 million or more and more than 4,000 units worth $2 million or more.
In another category in which Hawaii stands out, only 4 percent of Hawaii’s civilian population had no health insurance coverage in 2015, a decline from 5.3 percent the previous year.
Tian said that with labor laws that require companies to provide health coverage for their employees, Hawaii was the nation’s fourth lowest state in percentage of no health insurance coverage.
The U.S. Census Bureau released the data from its American Community Survey last week for areas with a population of 65,000 or more. About 1.8 percent of Hawaii’s population was surveyed.