Hawaii: not as good for women as it seems

According to a new national study, Hawai‘i is the ninth-best state for women. While there are many reasons to appreciate living in Hawai‘i, is this really true? Let’s take a closer look at what this ranking is based on.

The study points out that Hawai‘i women have the highest life expectancy at birth. While technically true, this is almost entirely due to the fact that we have the highest population percentage of Asian Americans of any state, and Asians tend to live longer.

But if you compare racial/ethnic categories separately, Hawai‘i does much worse. In fact, in the latest such data publicly available, our Asian Americans have the lowest life expectancy of any state (for which there is data), at 82 years, compared to the national average of 86.5 years. Our Latinos also have the lowest life expectancy in the nation. In contrast, our white population has the 8th highest life expectancy among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Another factor in Hawai‘i’s high ranking in the Wallet Hub study is our fifth lowest official poverty rate among the states. As we’ve explained before, the official rate masks the true extent of poverty here because it does not factor in the cost of living. Once you do that, Hawai’i has the 10th highest poverty rate in the country.

In addition, while the study recognizes that we have the 49th lowest median earnings, when adjusted for the cost of living, Hawai‘i’s overall ranking is boosted by our having the nation’s lowest unemployment rate. Is a low unemployment rate really that laudable when women are earning so little?

And our official unemployment rate, like the poverty rate, is not as low as it seems. The official rate doesn’t count unemployed and underemployed people who looked for work in the past year but not the past month, as well as those who are working only part-time but would prefer full-time work. When you count all of the unemployed and underemployed, our rate drops to the 10th lowest in the nation. In fact the difference between the “full” and “official” unemployment rates in Hawai‘i—2.3 times higher—is larger than in any other state.

So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday, let’s remember that there’s a lot more to be done not only across the world, but also at home, in Hawai‘i.