Hawaii needs higher minimum wage
Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, February 7, 2019
A few weeks ago, I listened to Gov. David Ige’s optimistic State of the State address before the Legislature and compared it with my view of the state. My priorities, which I believe many of Hawaii’s residents share unequivocally, are the fight for $15 minimum wage, paid family leave and affordable housing. These, along with affordable health care, are the state’s highest-risk quality of life issues.
Year after year I’ve listened and voted for the politicians who I felt would prioritize these needs. Today my view is jaded from the lip service many have given Hawaii’s taxpayers.
I’ve spent 45 years in corporate America with operations in Hawaii, and have had the pleasure of working with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. I’ve witnessed employees who work two and three jobs to make ends meet. I’ve coached employees who are juggling finances to support their families, buy their first home or mortgage their homes to pay for early education or college for their children in the hopes of a better life. My heart aches when these same employees get into financial trouble during economic downturns and their homes go into foreclosure. I sat in many national meetings where I fought for parity wages for employees in Hawaii.
With the stress from the ever-increasing cost of living, especially housing costs, families are forced into ohana housing, and many others find themselves homeless. In many instances, the elders are providing housing, food, educational support along with covering their own costs.
In one sad instance, my friend is caring for her husband, her father and her grandchildren. There are no resources to put these seniors in care homes. This has taken a toll on her health but there are few options or services she can turn to for both financial and physical assistance.
It’s no secret Hawaii is at high risk with a graying population. Statistics indicate 17 percent of Hawaii’s residents are above 65 years, a 25 percent increase from the 2010 census. These numbers are set to grow to 30 percent by 2030. This aging is taking its toll on ever-increasing numbers of families. Families face daily challenges to juggle child care with the care of their aging parents.
My greatest fear from the battle raging in health care is the impact it will have on Hawaii’s Prepaid Health Care Act (PHCA). Many families count on health care through the state’s Employees Retirement System and there are concerns the large premium increases in the state’s health care benefits will become prohibitive. Retirees will be drastically affected at the most vulnerable time in their lives, and Medicaid funding for the impoverished is at risk.
This is compounded by the rapidly declining safety net for those in need. From my nonprofit board work, I see the struggle to fund necessary programs. It’s devastating when the state and federal governments withhold Human Services funds, forcing valuable services for children and families to be shut down and employees laid off, as was the case in Hawaii over the past couple of years.
Given this, and the reasons for the qualified workforce shortage, it’s mind-boggling why employers in Hawaii put up resistance to increasing the minimum wage. Obviously, neither they nor the state administration and politicians understand a living wage in Hawaii is double the $15 per hour, or what the normative costs are to care for Hawaii’s households.
Homelessness is a symptom of all of this. Isn’t now the time to do right by all the people?
Cleo Brown, former head of internet banking cafes in Hawaii and on the mainland, serves on several nonprofit boards and owns a consulting service.