Hawaii Democrats should raise minimum wage significantly
Originally published in the Star-Advertiser, January 24, 2019
Former Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi
Hawaii has a functioning two-party political system — it just isn’t the same as the two-party system that exists in other states. Hawaii has Democratic legislators and Republicratic legislators. Republicrats are Republicans who are able to get themselves elected as Democrats, but function like Republicans.
The good news is that this year, voters will have a unique opportunity to tell the difference between true Democrats and Republicrats because there have been several bills introduced to raise Hawaii’s minimum wage. Democrats will support these bills, but Republicrats will attempt to sink these bills by claiming the increases are too large or too small to approve.
The current $10.10 minimum wage works out to about $21,000 a year, as pointed out in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (“Continue review of minimum wage” Our View, Nov. 30, 2018). That is less than the tuition to send one child for one year to Punahou School.
That same editorial also noted that, “Even $15 an hour, or about $31,000, still would not reach what HUD considers ‘very low’ income.” And this: “There is little evidence that raising the minimum wage depresses the economy or increases unemployment.”
Hawaii has the second-lowest state unemployment rate in our country at 2.5 percent versus the current national average of 3.9 percent. Many of our local workers, to my personal knowledge, are working two full-time jobs or one full-time plus one part-time jobs just to pay for rental housing. An unemployment rate of 2 percent to 3 percent is essentially full employment. Most of Hawaii’s jobs are service- related jobs, not manufacturing jobs. Service jobs cannot simply be moved to other states.
In a recent guest column (“Inspired by hotel workers, it’s time to fight for a living wage,” Dec. 6, 2018), Gary Hooser stated, “Every person who works 40 hours per week deserves health care, a decent roof over their head and three meals a day. How could this be too much to ask of any business or any government leader?” There needs to be reasonable wage incentives to encourage people to work rather than give up all hope in their own future. Such wage incentives can even be a factor in reducing homelessness and the cost to government of homelessness.
The courage recently displayed by the Local 5 hotel workers, who were willing to jeopardize their future employment to receive increases in their wages commensurate with their duties and responsibilities, should inspire state legislators to show the same courage in supporting steady increases to Hawaii’s minimum wage.
Retired business leader Cleota Brown, in her recent column, entitled and advocating that “Workers need $17 minimum wage,” (Island Voices, Jan. 2), correctly made this request: “Do the right thing Hawaii, and let’s start down the road to restore love, hope, charity and equal opportunity for all of Hawaii’s people.”
In a free and open democratic nation, there will always be significant differences in income and achievement levels among its citizens, but there will always be a need for democratic nations to provide justice and just wages for all its working citizens.
I urge our Democratic legislators to do the right thing by working together to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage significantly in each of the next two, or preferably, four years. Do not be swayed by the Republicrats in your midst.