You’ve heard a lot about a ‘living wage.’ Here’s what that actually means in Hawaii
Originally published in Hawaii News Now, January 22, 2019
HONOLULU - There’s lot of talk at the Legislature this session about the so-called “living wage.”
In opening day ceremonies, several legislative leaders said they’d take up proposals to boost the minimum wage in the state to $15 an hour (from $10.10 an hour or $21,008 a year).
And during his State of the State address, Gov. David Ige said he’d submit legislation to bring Hawaii’s minimum wage “closer to a real living wage.”
But what does the living wage actually mean?
The term is designed to show the minimum someone needs to earn to support themselves and their family if they’re working full time.
And it differs by state — and county.
MIT’s living wage calculator puts the living wage for Hawaii at $15.39 for a single adult (or an annual salary of about $32,000).
An adult with one child needs to earn $27.18 an hour to make ends meet, while two adults with two children need to each bring in at least $16.42 an hour to cover basic expenses.
On Oahu, the living wage is higher: $16.03 for a single adult, and $16.87 for two adults (each working) with two children.
In Maui County, meanwhile, the living wage for single person is $14.60. And it’s $12.92 on the Big Island.
According to MIT, there are a number of professions in Hawaii where the typical salary is well below the living wage.
Those include jobs in personal care and service (typical annual salary: $26,621), food preparation and service ($25,512), and retail or sales ($28,526).
Supporters of a living wage say it will float all boats — improving the standard of living for a wide swath of working families in Hawaii — and pull thousands out of poverty.
But opponents argue that higher incomes will translate to higher prices, and will hit small businesses the hardest.
The discussion of a living wage is one happening nationwide. And a number of states have already adopted legislation that moves them to a $15 minimum wage within the next several years.
Those states include California, which will have a $15 minimum wage starting in 2022, Massachusetts and Oregon.