If you’re like me, a millennial born and raised on Maui, chances are you’ve said your fair share of goodbyes. It’s a fact of life here that friend groups hardly last – one friend goes off to school, job opportunities lure a few, and another buys a mainland home for a fraction of Maui’s median price (which, by the way, was $790,000 for single-family homes last month)… and before you know it, that friend group is now just a group chat. It’s a reality I’ve lived, and one borne out in a recent report by Pacific Resource Partnership, a consortium representing the construction union Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters.
The report, titled “Hawaii Perspectives: Understanding the Mindset of Hawaii Residents” is based on data collected by the national firm ALG Research, which surveyed 942 registered voters across the state.
It found that 45 percent of Hawai‘i residents have, or have a household member who has, seriously thought about leaving Hawai‘i. For 18 to 34-year-old young adults, that ratio is higher, at 66 percent. Likewise, 51 percent of college graduates are considering bidding the Aloha State a hui hou.
The top three reasons for displacement are not surprising to anyone who knows the struggle: high cost of living, job opportunities elsewhere, and expensive housing.
But “brain drain,” the loss of talented youth due to emigration, is just one depressing implication of the report. Survey respondents also shared a bleak view of the future.
More residents felt that the standard of living for children growing up in Hawai‘i would worsen than those who thought it would improve. Optimism for their own financial future has also declined, as the amount of people who said they were “somewhat better” off than they were a year ago decreased from 42 percent in 2015 to 25 percent in 2019. In that same period, the percent of individuals who said they were doing “about the same” more than doubled.
47 percent of “long-time locals” reported that they felt Hawai‘i is “seriously on the wrong track,” shadowing the 39 percent who feel the state is headed in the right direction. Among the major problems that respondents felt are getting worse are homelessness (79 percent said it is worsening) and availability of affordable housing (71 percent).
71 percent said that Hawai‘i’s high cost of living is what worries them the most about residing here, while there is significant feeling that the burden is not equally distributed: 67 percent thought that the economic inequality between the rich and poor is widening.
As it turns out, the survey responses are a pretty accurate reflection of reality. U.S. Census population estimates show that since 2016, Hawai‘i has seen an annual decline in population, losing a net of 3,710 residents between July 2017 and July 2018.
And, as MauiTime reported last December, U.S. Census data also shows that median income for the highest earning census tract on Maui has increased while the median income for the lowest earning tracts has decreased – in other words, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.
This all points to a paradise that is becoming more and more difficult for locals to survive in and call home. And, while the status quo may work for a select few, it appears public perception has caught up to see the challenges locals face. For some, the solution means leaving friends, family, and home – and ultimately more loss for the people they leave behind. For others, it means sacrifice, like taking on two jobs.
Our mayor and many councilmembers campaigned on a platform of affordable housing and supporting a Maui where residents can thrive. With the number of development projects moving forward throughout the county, this all begs important questions: Are these projects truly for the people who call this beautiful ‘aina home? Are all parties invited to the table and represented in planning? And are we doing our best to ensure that the benefit created by these projects is available for all?
Image courtesy Flickr/steve_p2008