High Cost Of Living Drives Family, Friends Out Of Hawaii

by Keli‘i Akina 

Hawaii’s population declined again in 2022, and that’s not good.

More than 15,000 people left Hawaii for the mainland last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Counting births, deaths and immigration from other countries, Hawaii’s population declined by almost 7,000 people. 

This is the sixth year in a row that Hawaii’s population has fallen. Too many of our families, friends and neighbors are having to say aloha to the islands they love and call home. 

Some people have suggested that this is actually a good thing. Hawaii already has too many people, they say, and fewer people will mean less traffic, less crowded parks and beaches, and so on. But whether Hawaii is overcrowded is not really the issue. Those who applaud this exodus of Hawaii residents to the mainland still need to consider this question: Why are they moving away? 

Survey results show that Hawaii’s high cost of living is the main reason. Food, housing and transportation simply cost too much here. Add high taxes and inflation on top of that and it’s no surprise so many people are leaving. 

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has a section on its website called “Why we left Hawaii.” It contains the stories of dozens of island residents who moved away, and they almost all say the same thing: States on the mainland have more jobs, lower prices and lower taxes.

Many of Hawaii’s young people have left the islands to pursue opportunities in innovative fields such as technology or scientific research. When they leave, Hawaii loses out on their talents and ingenuity. 

This ongoing exodus also leaves our remaining residents with bigger tax bills, since the costs of operating Hawaii’s state and county governments typically do not go down. Even though Hawaii’s population has declined, the state budget hasn’t. Lawmakers project it will reach $18 billion next year — the largest in state history. 

But the emotional toll this takes might be the greatest consequence of all. As anyone who has had a family member move away can tell you, the loss can be heartbreaking. It isn’t easy for anyone to leave a place their family has called home for generations and returning to the islands for visits is not usually cheap. 

Former Wahiawa resident Colyn Slocum, who now lives in Nevada but was born and raised in Hawaii where his family has lived for generations, told the Institute recently about why he decided to leave Hawaii. 

“The taxation rate leaves you with barely half your paycheck, and city services fail to make up for the lost income,” he said. “And so many jobs fail to provide adequate benefits to make up for the poor pay.“

It was made all the more difficult by the fact that nearly half of my cousins had already left, so there were that many fewer of us who could help care for my aging parents.” 

Unfortunately, thousands of individuals and families are in that same boat. Their families live in Hawaii, but they cannot afford the high cost of living. As the 2023 legislative session begins this month, state lawmakers should keep these people in mind and look for ways to make Hawaii a place more residents can continue to call home. 

KELI‘I AKINA is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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