$13 in 2024 is not a “good first step”. It’s actually a step backward.

Anyone working 40 hours a week, deserves to earn a wage sufficient to provide a dry and safe place to sleep, 3 meals a day and basic health care.

Readers who do not agree with the above statement might as well stop right here. I acknowledge there are those who agree but differ on “the way to get there”. For you folks, I welcome the discussion and even more so welcome your tangible, specific suggestions on how in fact we “get there”.

The Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DEBDT) has determined that for a single person without children the hourly wage needed to simply “subsist” is approximately $17.50 per hour (plus or minus depending on the island, etc). Note this is the State of Hawaii’s official “subsistence wage” and includes no-frills whatsoever…just the basics of staying alive.

Hawaii has the second-highest homeless rate per capita in the entire United States.

Our current minimum wage sits at $10.10 per hour and nearly 50% of our residents live on the very edge of poverty.

Almost everyone is working two jobs or more, simply etching out a life devoid of the “extras” so many of us take for granted. Thank god we have our warm weather and beautiful natural environment to help get us through the days.

Recently, Hawaii House and Senate leaders, with the support of Gov. David Ige, announced a list of proposals intended to support Hawaii’s low income working families and those at the bottom end of the economic ladder.

With much fanfare, they announced as a “good first step” their plan to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2024.

Let’s do the math. In their own press release, the Legislature and the Governor talk of studies that show how single individuals and families are struggling to make $28,296/77,052 a year.

Unfortunately, the $13 an hour they propose by 2024 doesn’t actually add up to helping anyone get even to that lowest threshold. $13 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year add up to only $27,040. The inadequacy of the $13 per hour offer is even more apparent when you calculate the inflation which will accrue between now and 2024.

Remember, a subsistence wage NOW is $17.50 per hour and nearly half of our population lives on the edge of poverty.

And here we are listening to the magnanimous offer of $13 – in 2024.

A little historical context is also in order:

  • 90% of the legislators attending the press conference and the governor himself has in the past said publicly they supported at least $15 an hour.
  • The official position of the Democratic Party of Hawaii is in support of a $15 per hour minimum wage (and yes virtually 100% of the political leadership in Hawaii is a Democrat).
  • And the most recent “position” of the Hawaii Senate (via HB1191 SD2) was $15 per hour by 2023.

So no, $13 per hour in 2024 is not a “good first step”, unless of course, the intent is to step backward. And no, the “other elements of the package” (tax credits and housing initiatives) do not replace the basic need to pay people fair wages for a fair day’s work.

“A good first step” is allowing legislators to publicly vote on what a clear and strong majority have said they publicly support, which is at least $15 per hour.

An even better first step would be passing a measure that reaches the $17 target and includes annual cost of living increases. That is the step Hawaii’s working families need and the only step that will ensure they eventually achieve a true living wage.

My thought (and a perverse hope I suppose), is that the governor and the legislative leadership in the House and Senate, perhaps viewed their announcement as the start of a conversation only, and starting at $13 per hour is simply a negotiating position.

Small businesses that fear negative impacts from having to increase their workers’ wages need only look at the recent history in Hawaii for reassurance.

When Hawaii’s minimum wage was increased from $7.25 to $10.10, there were no increases in bankruptcy, no increases in unemployment and no increases in inflation (outside the normal trend).

It is well past the time that everyone in Hawaii who works 40 hours a week can afford a dry safe place to live, eat 3 meals a day, and go to the doctor when they are sick. Anything less is immoral and unacceptable.

HB2541 has now been passed by the House Labor/Finance committee’s at the unacceptable level of $13 per hour in 2024.

Even if you have already sent other emails in the past to your legislator and others, please join me in contacting your Hawaii Representative TODAY and share with him/her in a courteous and professional manner your thoughts on why $13 is not enough and encourage him them instead to put all Hawai’i on a solid path to a true living wage.

First published in The Garden Island Newspaper on January 22, 2020.


About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - http://www.garyhooser.com/#four “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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7 Responses to $13 in 2024 is not a “good first step”. It’s actually a step backward.

  1. Bob Small says:

    There needs to be a place for people to start. Too high a minimum wage will take away those opportunities. Skilled workers have unions and strength on wage negotiation because they have educated themselves and learned a trade. Businesses are struggling in foodservice and other areas here and adding to their costs when they do not make money already will cause loss of jobs and businesses altogether. The rising costs will go directly into the price of products resulting in higher costs for food and less quality alternatives. We have two businesses that have been here for a long time. One of our businesses has skilled workers with experience and they make good money. The other one is a manufacturer of food and there are no margins at all for that 75 year old company. You see the closings. Loco Moco restaurant just closed yesterday at Mililani Town Center. It was at the shopping center when it opened. Vacancies are on the rise in a market that is exploding. When there is a downturn we will see expanding homelessness. Increase the minimum too much and our economy will crumble. People need to strive for excellence and do what it takes to reach a place where their knowledge, experience and skill demand that they earn more money.

    • garyhooser says:

      Bob, I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one. The research is clear that so long as the increases are phased in and do not jump too high too quickly, the impacts you describe are not the norm. Nearly 50% of Hawaii’s people live on the edge of poverty or are already there. The least the other 50% of us can do is pay a little more.

    • May Lake says:

      Wages are ;meant to provide a living for the citizens of our state and not leave them struggling hand to mouth…Unions are the answer for all workers. At these low wages, there is no wiggle room to pay for an education that leaves the citizen in debt. Housing costs alone make the minimum wage a slap in the face to all our hardworking citizens. Part time work and shifts for workers in retail work make it a struggle to just get through a day. On the island of Hawaii, a rural and tourist economy, people’s lives are impacted horribly by early 2000’s inflation of real estate prices. For the Legislature to consider, especially Democratic dominated one, that $838,000 house is affordabe is ridiculous. The Big Island housing has gone out of the market for working families and I mean working “ffamilies” not a working person. I am glad your business is profitable because it has skilled workers. Every job is a skilled job whether it is in a retail establishment, a fast food restaurant, or cleaning the streets. To demean the labor of any worker is to demean the labor of all and makes it possible to believe that a minimum wage that cannot support one working person an OK thing to legislate. Wake up and see your neighbor as the skilled person they are now…Support free tuition in the University of Hawaii so our citizens can expand the skill sets. Aloha the Children…Aloha the World..

  2. THOMAS TIZARD says:


  3. Christopher W Fish says:

    Thanks for caring.

  4. Mark says:

    well the minimum wage did raise from 7-10/hr…did that do anything good for the state?….nope….so dont raise it….

    • garyhooser says:

      Actually, it helped many workers and harmed no one. There was no increase in unemployment, no increase in bankruptcy and no increase in inflation (out of the normal increase).

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