But the bill’s supporters, including Hawaiʻi’s labor unions and progressive activists, say the minimum wage should be increased even higher than the proposed $12 an hour, which would take effect in July 2022. They want it increased to $17 an hour by 2026—a hike they say is also good for businesses because it boosts consumer spending.
“Our chronically low wages, when adjusted for the cost of living here, are creating an unsustainable economic situation in Hawaiʻi,” Will Caron, president of Young Progressives Demanding Action, told lawmakers. “Without a dramatic change in economic policy to create a more equitable system that works for everyone, the working folks who make up the backbone of Hawaiʻi’s economy and who are its social fabric will no longer be able to remain in Hawaiʻi. As the working class is driven out of the archipelago or further into poverty, the economic base of the state will continue to shrink.”
In recent years there’s been increasing support from the state’s leading lawmakers and Democratic Party to pay workers a living wage, but the gap between that figure and what lawmakers have been willing to pass remains wide.
A single person with no children in Hawaiʻi needed to earn $17.63 an hour last year to cover their most basic needs, according to estimates from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Hawaiʻi’s minimum wage also lags behind other states, even though it has the highest cost of living in the country. The next eight most expensive states, including California and New York, have all passed laws to raise their minimum wages to at least $15 an hour over the next five years, according to the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, a public-policy organization focused on economic security and social justice issues. Meanwhile, the effect of inflation on Hawaiʻi’s $10.10 minimum wage equates to full-time workers losing $1,000 annually.