Can We Talk About The Different Wages?

by Dr. Arcelita Imasa

I have heard people talk about minimum wage, a living wage, something called ALICE, and more recently a “thriving wage.” What are all of these and does the Hawai’i Workers Center have a position on these?
– Reader

Dear Reader,

You asked a great question!

The Hawai’i Workers Center(HWC) has successfully campaigned to increase the minimum wage. But we recognize that the minimum wage is just what its name says–minimum.

It simply means the lowest wage that can be paid to most workers. However, it is not a wage that most workers could live on without other income.

On October 1, 2022, Hawai’i’s minimum wage increased from $10.10 per hour (the rate it had been stuck at for 4 years) to $12 per hour. It was estimated that 80,000 workers were making under $12 per hour and would see their income rise.

Hawai’i’s minimum wage will increase to $14 per hour effective January 1, 2024. On January 1, 2026, it will increase to $16 dollars and $18 per hour effective January 1, 2028.

While some employers have opposed these minimum wage increases, our position is that if the only way a business can be viable is to pay its workers poverty-level wages then it’s not viable business to begin with.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The ALICE Income Assessment is a tool that measures the gap between how much income households in each State need to earn to be above the Federal Poverty Level and be able to afford basic necessities–called the ALICE Threshold.

Incomes above the ALICE Threshold are often considered “living wages.” In 2021 Hawai’i ranks 29th of the 50 states in terms of the number of persons living below the ALICE threshold.

Honolulu County, with the largest number of households, had 39% living below the ALICE threshold followed by Hawai’i County with almost half or 47% below the threshold.

Maui County with 56,319 households had 49% below the threshold. And that was before the devastation of the Lahaina wildfires!The HWC believes that workers should only need one job. That job should enable workers and their families to thrive and not just survive.

A thriving wage is a relatively new concept for those who research and measure income and prosperity. But it is not new to workers.

Ask any worker what they really need to thrive and how they would define “thriving.” We did just that recently.

This is what they told us: A thriving wage would be one in which 40% or less is spent to secure adequate housing and health care.

It allows a family to take a vacation, have disposable income for recreation, or go out to eat once in a while.

It’s a wage that allows them to save at least 10% of their income for the future.

How would you define a thriving wage?

We would all be happier, and safer and our island economy would prosper if all of us were thriving instead of some of us just surviving.

Hawaii Workers Center

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is a practicing family physician and the secretary of the Hawaii Workers Center’s Executive Committee of the Board. She grew up in the Philippines before migrating to Hawaii with her family more than a decade ago.

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