Advocates rally at the Capitol to demand higher minimum wage

Minimum wage. Kaimuki resident Brandy Gouveia, 24, works 80 hours a week to pay for her $1, 350 studio apartment with added bills.

She said it’s still not enough.

“I grew up in foster care, so I don’t have an auntie or uncle to call, ” Gouveia said in an interview. “Everything I have comes out of my pocket. Last year I had to take a graveyard shift as a second source of income. It took an emotional toll on my health.”

About 50 living wage advocates rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday evening to push lawmakers to raise the the hourly wage to $17, from the current minimum of $10.10. The average full-time Hawaii resident making minimum wage makes only $21, 000 a year.

Signs read, “Don’t make me leave Hawaii, ” echoing the frustration from Faith Action for Community Equity and Raise Up Hawai ‘i and other advocates for raising the minimum.

Last year House and Senate lawmakers considered bills that would have increased the minimum wage to $15, but the measures died in conference.

Reps. Dale Kobayashi (D, Manoa-Punahou-Moiliili ) and Amy Perruso (D, Wahiawa ­-Whitmore-Poamoho ) said at the rally that they support the wage increase. Perruso said her community has a “40 % higher rate of poverty than the state average.”

“Our workers are not just young, entry-level employees, ” Perruso said at the rally. “There are people in my community who are working two or three jobs just to feed their families.”

Nearly half of Hawaii families making minimum wage struggle, according to the Aloha United Way, and the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism calculates that a resident with no children needs to earn at least $17.63 an hour to make ends meet.

But proposals to raise the wage floor worry some of the mom-and-pop shops.

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview that everything adds up for businesses, and a higher minimum would lead to increased cost of goods.

“While some businesses pay above minimum wage, there are some that cannot afford it.” Menor-McNamara said. “Merely raising the minimum wage would not improve the cost of living.”

Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst for Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law &Economic Justice, gave a PowerPoint presentation on planning for this year’s session of the Legislature in a meeting shortly after the rally. She noted that some local businesses are expected to oppose the wage increase.

“When we talk about $17 or $15, we’re not talking about raising it tomorrow or next year, ” Woo said. “We’re talking about taking regular steps by $1 or $1.50 a year.”

Woo said this would help businesses prepare if the wage increase passes.