As anyone who’s spent at least five minutes in Hawaii can say, race here is enormously complex. While no single ethnic group makes up a majority of Hawaii’s population, there’s nothing remotely resembling an even distribution of power and wealth in the state.
In an attempt to assess the racial and ethnic situation in Hawaii, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) recently released a new report titled Demographic, Social, Economic, and Housing Characteristics for Selected Race Groups in Hawaii. Though just 40 pages long, the report is packed with Census data, statistics and tables that draw a disturbing picture of the often unequal–and unjust–socioeconomic situation in Hawaii.
“This report contains data that describe the demographic, social, economic, and housing experiences of Hawaii’s 14 largest race groups,” states the report. “Many of the graphs and tables show disparities in education, income, and resources among Hawaii’s residents. This report is not, however, a complete portrait of an individual’s or group’s overall well-being. Family ties, community structure, and culture all play a role in shaping the lives of a population. The groups highlighted here are more than statistics–they are diverse populations made up of people with multi-faceted interests and identities. They are supported by friends, neighbors, nonprofits, mentors, and faith and community leaders, and their stories are richer than that which can be told by Census data alone.”
The report offers a great deal, but I’m going to excerpt the portion of it that deals with poverty–arguably the most important, and disturbing, section of the report:
People living below the poverty threshold can struggle with limited access to food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education. Hawaii’s individual poverty rate, 11.2%, was the 6th lowest among the United States and District of Columbia during the 2011-2015 period, and the poverty rate among families, 7.7%, was the 8th lowest in the nation; however, poverty rates in Hawaii vary significantly between race groups, with some groups experiencing very little poverty while others experience double-digit levels.
Okinawans have the lowest poverty rates for both families and individuals, with an estimated 25 families (1.8% of families) and 216 individuals (3.2% of the population) living in poverty. The Marshallese have the highest poverty rates for both individuals and families, with 538 families (46.2% of families) and 4,566 individuals (51.1% of the population) living in poverty.
Of the five largest race groups, the Japanese have the lowest poverty rates for individuals and families, with 2,619 families (3.8% of families) and 20,214 individuals (6.6% of the population) below the poverty level. Of those same five groups, Native Hawaiians have the highest poverty rates for individuals and families, with 6,610 families (12.6% of families) and 45,420 individuals (15.5% of the population) living below the poverty level.
Let me reiterate: Native Hawaiians, the first people to live in Hawaii, currently “have the highest poverty rates for individuals and families” in Hawaii. This is a tragedy and a travesty that those of us in Hawaii who aren’t Native Hawaiian ignore at our peril.
Click here to read the report.