Honolulu minimum wage is lowest among 15 most expensive U.S. cities

Pretty much everyone who lives in Hawaiʻi knows this is the most expensive state to live in. Did you know that Honolulu is the fourth most expensive metropolitan area in the nation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)?

Honolulu trails three metro areas in California that are more expensive, and is ahead of—or more expensive than— New York City! In Honolulu, our high cost of living means that $100 is really worth only $80.52, according to the BEA. That means that the purchasing power of a typical American is more than 20 percent higher than that of a Honolulu resident. 

And while residents of metropolitan areas with high prices also tend to have higher incomes, that’s not the case in Honolulu—and especially not true for minimum wage workers. Our minimum wage of $10.10 an hour is only $21,000 per year—and it’s been stuck there since January 1, 2018. 

Meanwhile, among the other 14 most expensive cities in the nation, the lowest minimum wage is $12 an hour, and five are already at least $15 an hour. Many have additional minimum wage increases scheduled for the future, while Hawaiʻi’s minimum wage will not go up by even a penny without action from our lawmakers.



For metro areas with more than one minimum wage level currently in effect, the average of the levels was used for this chart.

Even the conservative Tax Foundation admits that, “Differences in price levels between metropolitan areas have large implications for economic policy, as many policies, such as minimum wage levels, tax brackets, and means-tested public benefit income thresholds, are denominated in nominal dollars. Because each metropolitan area and state has a different price level, these amounts are not equivalent in purchasing power.”

With such high prices and low wages, it’s no wonder that Honolulu has a homelessness crisis. And the fact that Hawaiʻi has the most crowded housing in the nation is fueling our current coronavirus pandemic.

These types of detrimental effects of Hawaiʻi’s low minimum wage add to the piles of the evidence that our state’s minimum wage workers need a long overdue raise. When will our leaders act and give them one?