The exodus continues.
According to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of urban Honolulu declined in 2018 for the second year in a row, to 347,397, almost 1.3 percent less than the 2016 count of 351,883.
People aren’t just leaving Honolulu. Hawaii’s population statewide also declined over the past two years. According to the census, statewide population loss was about 3,700 between July 2017 and July 2018, the fifth most in the country.
Last week, I was on KSSK radio host Michael W. Perry’s “Perry &and The Posse” show to talk about the issue.
“We hear large numbers of our local residents are leaving,” said Perry. “Why would anybody be moving?”
It’s a question that everybody asks. But despite Hawaii being “paradise,” there’s no mystery here.
On the Grassroot Institute Facebook page, we’ve been running a series of posts that explore the reasons people leave.
Called “Why We Left Hawaii,” the series shares stories from former Hawaii residents who felt they had to leave for the mainland. Their stories might differ in particulars, but there are three themes that come up over and over again: the cost of living, better opportunities, and homesickness.
I’d like to share a few excerpts with you.
“I’d love to come back home, but the economy in Hawaii was killing us financially. Milk here is $1.25 a gallon. My son, who is now 15, is excelling in the high school military academy that he’s been at for two years now. The opportunities and resources available to him would never have been available in Hawaii. … I am heartbroken every day because I want to come home, but reality reminds me why I cannot.” (Dawn Leihuanani Hutchinson, Utah)
“After struggling for six years, living in a run-down studio with my six-year-old and husband, being unable to save, and my husband and I decided to move to Florida because he’s from there and everything is cheaper. I miss home and it breaks my heart that my son won’t get to grow up in the same culture I did and have May Days at school … but we couldn’t survive. We weren’t even living paycheck to paycheck; we were living paycheck to the following Monday.” (Natasha Luciano, Florida)
“The only way that I would return to Hawaii is if I hit the lottery here and could make enough to move my family and retire. However, that seems almost impossible with how the government is run, and with just how much more everything costs on the islands.” (Michael Hernandez, Texas)
This is not a quick-fix problem. Lowering the cost of living, creating affordable housing, and generating better employment opportunities cannot be accomplished in a few simple steps.
What we need is a complete reappraisal of the policies that have brought us to this point. We need to reduce the endless taxes and fees that make living in this state a case of “death by a thousand cuts.”
We need to increase the supply of affordable housing by making more land available for development and streamlining the bureaucratic process so those houses get built.
Finally, we need to grow the economy. This means getting rid of the onerous regulatory schemes and high taxes that discourage investment and entrepreneurship in our state.
There’s no mystery to why people are leaving Hawaii. If we want to stop the exodus, we need to embrace policies that generate opportunity, not taxes.
Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.