Sociologist: ‘No real surprises’ in study of Hawaii’s working population


A study released Tuesday by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism shows some jobs related to tourism pay better in Hawaii than on the mainland, but for almost everyone else, the price of paradise is a lower paycheck.

“Hawaii’s Working Population: An Analysis by Industry 2012-2016,” shows the general demographic, social and economic characteristics of Hawaii’s working population by industry using the latest data set available from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012-16 American Community Survey.


Overall, the industry average wage of full-time payroll workers was $51,347 for Hawaii, lower than the U.S. average of $54,840 during the 2012-16 period. In other words, Hawaii’s average wage for full-time payroll workers was 93.6 percent of the U.S. average.

Self-employed individuals made more money on average than payroll workers. The average labor earning for self-employed workers was $51,868 per year, 16.3 percent higher than that of payroll workers.

U.S. average wages were higher than Hawaii in most of the industry sectors. Exceptions included accommodation and food services, where full-time annual salaries were $9,630 higher than the U.S. average; construction, at $7,915 higher; and health care and social assistance, with a $7,312 higher yearly salary.

“The top two industries, accommodation and food services and retail trade, are closely related to tourism and employed one-fourth of our total working population,” said DBEDT Director Luis P. Salaveria in a written statement. “It is encouraging that Hawaii employees in the accommodation and food services sector were paid better than their counterparts in the nation.”

Alton Okinaka, a University of Hawaii at Hilo sociologist, said there are “no real surprises here, especially given the island, right now, has pretty much full employment.” Okinaka said visitor industry related wages “have to be a little higher because we have a higher cost of living.”

“It gets weird because construction, it comes and goes,” he added. “On the mainland, it’s seasonal, and here, it’s not. And one of the results of that, I think, is that a lot of the construction contractors can afford to pay a lower wage because they’re paying all year round.”

Women’s paychecks were smaller than men’s in almost all occupations.

The state average labor earning for male workers was $51,566, which was $12,921 higher than the $38,645 average earnings for female workers.

“The one thing I found that was a little bit more surprising was that in the agricultural sector, women got paid more than men,” Okinaka said. “But the only thing I can think of when it comes to that is that women may be doing more of the office work, doing the bookkeeping and stuff. But I don’t know, because I haven’t seen the breakdown.”

Women in agricultural, forestry, fishing and hunting earned an average $42,762, while men took home an average $33,872.

The male to female ratio in Hawaii’s workforce was 51.9 males to 48.1 females per 100 workers during the 2012-16 period. The construction sector was the top industry dominated by male workers, 89.8 percent vs. 10.2 percent female workers. Health care and social assistance sector had the largest share of female workers at 73.3 percent.

Among the working population in Hawaii, Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, had the highest numbers in the workforce, 37.3 percent. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1998, accounted for a third of the workforce at 33.2 percent. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, accounted for 28.3 percent, while workers born in 1945 and earlier were only 1.1 percent of the total work force during the 2012-16 period.

Asians were represented by the highest numbers in all industries except art, entertainment and recreation, where whites were the dominating ethnic group.

The study found more education equated to higher paychecks, as did experience. In general, average labor earnings increased with age.

The top paying industry in the country was professional, scientific and technical services sector, with an average annual labor earning of $80,833. People in the same industry in Hawaii earned 82 percent of the U.S. average. The top industry with the highest labor earning in Hawaii was utilities, at $70,576.

Average labor earnings for those in the white race group alone were higher than other major race groups in all the industry sectors except art, entertainment and recreation, where Asians had higher average earnings at $32,771, higher than the $31,612 of those who identified as white.

“I don’t think it would surprise most people to know that whites get paid more, and that was one of the few things in there,” Okinaka said. “Asians get paid a little bit more, but that’s mainly in the technical section, and that won’t surprise anybody, either.

“… Much as no one likes to talk about it, the very top-tier positions in Hawaii still tend to be white.”

The major industry structure difference between Hawaii and the U.S., in terms of employment, lies in tourism and manufacturing. The top three industries with the largest employment for the U.S. were health care and social assistance, 13.8 percent of the workforce, retail at 11.5 percent and manufacturing at 10.4 percent. In contrast, the top three industries in Hawaii were accommodation and food services at 13.6 percent, retail at 11.7 percent and health care and social assistance at 11.2 percent.

One big difference Okinaka sees between Hawaii and mainland employment is the lack of factory work in Hawaii.

“Obviously, we’re not in manufacturing here, and manufacturing provides most of the decent blue-collar jobs,” he said. “And we’re completely missing that.”


The report is available at:

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