Hawaii household and family incomes rose again last year to remain among the highest in the nation, according to the latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bad news is that the same goes for the state’s cost of living and steep housing costs.
The U.S. Census Bureau last week released its annual American Community Survey for 2017, which included data on income, poverty housing, housing and health insurance.
The numbers were mixed but not surprising as incomes tried to keep pace with the rising cost of paradise but had a difficult time. For example, families with two or more earners were the rule in Hawaii rather than the exception, according to the survey.
As it has in the past, the official poverty rate was somewhat deceiving, making the islands out to be an economic Eden with a ranking that was the third lowest in the nation.
But Eugene Tian, chief economist with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, conceded that the figure is a bare-bones number that does not fully consider Hawaii’s high cost of living.
“Without (calculating) the cost of living, we’re not in good shape,” Tian said.
For a different view, the Census Bureau offers the annual Supplemental Poverty Measure, which was released in a separate report last week.
“It’s much more accurate way to look at poverty,” said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst with the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center in Honolulu.
Woo said the supplementary measure, first calculated a couple of decades ago, factors in a variety of pertinent items such as the earned income tax credit and food stamp benefits. It also takes into account housing costs, which is a huge deal in Hawaii, she said.
So while the official poverty rate average from 2015-2017 appears to make Hawaii shine with the 10th lowest rate among the states, the supplemental measure flips the number, giving Hawaii the 10th highest rate. The supplemental measure is only broken out for a three-year period, and not just for 2017.
And while the official rate represents some 142,000 residents who cannot make ends meet, the supplemental figure boosts that figure to 210,000, a 47 percent increase that was the third-largest jump in the nation when comparing the two rates, Woo said.
The higher number, she said, is closer to a truer depiction of the struggles people experience every day in the Aloha State.
Woo said the official rate is similar to Hawaii’s historically low employment rate, which hides the fact that thousands of adults in Hawaii have little time to spend with their families because they are working multiple jobs.
According to the survey, 39.5 percent of Hawaii families were two-earner families. The City and County of Honolulu had the highest percentage of three or more earner families at 17.8 percent.
Much of those earnings went into housing. In Hawaii 43 percent of the residents rented, while 57 percent owned their own home.
In 2017 Hawaii had the third-highest median housing costs for owners with mortgages. The median monthly housing cost for owners with mortgages was $2,337, which was not statistically different from 2016 after adjusting for inflation, Tian said.
Meanwhile, Hawaii continued to sport the nation’s highest median monthly housing costs for renter-
occupied units. The state’s median renter costs were $1,573 in 2017, which was a 4.4 percent increase from the previous year’s renter costs of $1,506.
According to the survey, median earnings for full-time, year-round workers in Hawaii were $46,978 in 2017. This was only slightly more than the U.S. median of $46,881.
Broken down by counties, the median full-time, year-round earnings were $48,730 in the City and County of
Honolulu, $44,779 in Maui County, $42,384 in Kauai County, and $42,048 in Hawaii County.
Regarding health insurance, Hawaii stands out with the nation’s second lowest civilian uninsured rate at only 3.8 percent. Hawaii has been near the top in this category since lawmakers approved the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act in 1974, requiring employers to offer coverage to employees working at least 20 hours per week.
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 1.7 percent of Hawaii’s population was surveyed.