Median household income in Hawai‘i is rising along with income inequality between areas, newly released census data shows. The data, compiled by the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism using information from the US Census American Community Survey, reveals that the median household income for the highest earning census tract on Maui has increased by $5,195 while the median household income in Maui’s lowest earning census tract has decreased by $4,038.
In other words, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.
The data also shows that the disparity between the highest and lowest earning neighborhoods has increased. In 2008-2012, the difference between the census tract with the highest median household income and the tract with the lowest was $54,297. During 2013-2017, that number grew to $63,530.
Hawai‘i DBEDT released the numbers as part of its analysis of the results of the American Community Survey conducted by the US Census. ACS datasets are released annually by the department, with a compilation of data occurring every five years. The latest dataset, released last week, reports data from 2013-2017.
The data also looks at civilian unemployment rates, a percentage that has decreased statewide between the 2008-2012 and 2013-2017 periods, from 6.7 to 4.9 percent. On Maui, however, the census tract with the highest unemployment rate has increased in unemployment from 14.6 percent to 16.6 percent. In the 2013-2017 period, this census tract was West Central Wailuku, an area spanning from Mokuhau Road to Main Street and covering Happy Valley, Vineyard Street, and part of Wailuku Town. This area also had the lowest median household income for both 2008-2012 and 2013-2017 datasets.
While these figures come with a margin of error, the numbers point to a disturbing trend of growing income inequality between areas on Maui. This could amount to noticable inequality between neighborhoods, accelerating the growth of poverty and the accompanying issues of crime and addiction in poorer areas, while wealthier areas increase their access to opportunities.
In the book The Spirit Level, authors and epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett warn against income inequality and argue that greater equality leads to better societies. “As we looked at the data [for The Spirit Level],” they wrote in the Guardian, “it became clear that, as well as health and violence, almost all the problems that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder are more common in more unequal societies – including mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer wellbeing for children.”
Also troubling is their finding that income inequality influences the way that we relate to one another. “It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to and treat each other,” they wrote.
With development and proposed projects springing up around the county, this data raises important questions: Are all parties invited to the table and represented in planning? And are we doing our best to ensure that access to the opportunities created by these projects is available for all?
ACS data is viewable at Census.hawaii.gov.
Photo by Anthony Pignataro