Editor’s Note: When Working Hard is Hardly Enough
The most important stories we will publish all year begins with our first CHANGE Report.
The first of our CHANGE Reports is about working families who live from paycheck to pay-check, not because they are unemployed or lazy, but because the income from a low-wage job – or even two jobs – is not enough to cover Hawaii’s high cost of living.
If you, like me, are lucky enough to belong to the middle or upper classes, you may need to read our report to really understand the dire situation of these working people. But you don’t have to look far to find them. They work for your business, they teach your children, they cook and serve your restaurant food, they ring up everything you buy at the store, they care for your preschoolers and your elderly parents and, most often of all, they drive the tourism industry that drives the rest of the local economy.
Reporters who cover the state Legislature say the Democratic Party has made a higher minimum wage one of its top priorities. It will be difficult to resist such an increase; business groups may have to focus on the details, like negotiating a higher tip credit for employees who get tips. (See last month’s report on how a higher minimum wage might exacerbate the inequality between servers and kitchen staff in restaurants.)
The people who run businesses that depend on cheap labor will complain that a higher minimum wage will punish their companies to deal with an economic crisis they didn’t create: Hawaii’s insanely high cost of living.
These business owners will say we should instead build more affordable homes and they are right, we must do that and much more besides to make life livable for these working families. Because as Cindy Adams, the CEO of the Aloha United Way, told me: The solution is not just higher pay. “It includes addressing the high cost of living in Hawaii. We cannot pay people enough to get ourselves out of the high cost of living cycle. We must address housing affordability,” she says.
But higher wages must be part of the solution.
Opponents of a higher minimum wage say it will kill jobs. They are right on that, too. A higher minimum wage means some jobs and duties will be automated. Self-service kiosks instead of human clerks, computer programs instead of people, and maybe a cheery robot instead of a real smile. But those things will happen more and more – with or without a minimum wage increase.
Think of it from the perspective of a mother who works a 40-hour week and then toils 10 more hours each weekend on a second job, all for $12 an hour. Say, the minimum wage goes up to $15 and that increase kills the second job. Mom still makes the same $600 a week, but now she has 10 more hours to spend with her kids. I think everyone would accept that trade-off if it happened to them.
This month’s report is the first in a series of CHANGE Reports. For six consecutive months, Hawaii Business plans to publish a report based on the CHANGE framework of vital issues:
C – Community & Economy (this month)
H – Health & Wellness
A – Arts & Culture
N – Natural Environment
G – Government & Civic Engagement
E – Education (next month)
These reports are part of a much broader effort led by our owner, Duane Kurisu, to drive real change in the community. I hope you read the reports and I hope you help drive the CHANGE that Hawaii needs.