Building a stronger Hawaiʻi for residents and businesses means creating more opportunities for families to climb the economic ladder, but Hawaiʻi’s low wages and unequal tax structure crushes those who can afford it the least, driving families into poverty and homelessness.
Hawaiʻi has the lowest wages in the nation after adjusting for our cost of living, which is the highest in the nation. Families who are faltering beneath the weight of high costs for housing, utilities, and food are even further burdened by Hawaiʻi’s General Excise Tax (GET). Our lowest-income residents pay almost 10 times as much of their income on the GET as those at the top.
As a result, Hawaiʻi places the 2nd highest tax burden in the country on low-income households. Hawaiʻi should help our struggling neighbors earn higher wages and pay lower taxes. We can do that by raising the minimum wage and expanding tax credits that let low-income and working-class families keep more of what they earn.
Hawaiʻi Appleseed is a member of the Hawaiʻi Tax Fairness Coaltion. Its website, hitaxfairness.org, details many solutions to tax injustice in Hawaiʻi. The coalition posted our report, “Struggling to Make Ends Meet: The Need for a Working Family Credit,” during its successful campaign to pass a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit. Our report revealed that nearly half of Hawai‘i families are living paycheck to paycheck and that six out of seven survey respondents support the concept of tax credits that let low and moderate income working families keep more of what they earn.
Hawaiʻi Appleseed is also advocating for higher minimum wages in the state. The state minimum wage is currently $10.10 per hour, or $21,000 per year for full-time work. When the highest cost of living in the nation is factored in, it is the lowest minimum wage in the nation. Hawai‘i Appleseed is a member of the Hawai‘i Fight for $15 coalition, which aims to raise our state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Since low-wage workers in Hawai‘i are the least likely to have access to paid family leave, while they need the financial support of paid leave the most, we are advocating, as a member of the Hawai‘i Working Families Coalition, to bring paid family leave to our state. Especially with more and more of our seniors needing care, Hawai‘i needs to create a safety net for families facing serious caregiving responsibilities.
Hawai‘i Appleseed is also working to help custodial parents who receive TANF (cash welfare) gain access to their child support payments. Under Hawai‘i’s current system, a parent who owes child support to a family receiving TANF must pay their child support to the state (up to the amount of TANF benefits paid), essentially denying the custodial parent access to their court-mandated child support payments. The experience of other states with child support pass-through laws or policies shows that they increase fathers’ voluntary compliance with child support orders. Our state needs all the help we can get in that area. Since 2003, Hawai‘i has ranked last in collecting child support debts. Presently, families in Hawai‘i and the states are owed more than $484 million in child support arrears.
Additionally, we are tackling the issue of providing adequate foster care. Hawai’i Appleseed recently led a settlement discussion with the state’s Department of Human Services to increase the amount of money that foster care parents receive to take care of their foster children, an amount that hadn’t been updated in a quarter century. Hawai’i Appleseed continues to work to ensure that all keiki in Hawai’i are afforded the right to quality food, housing, and care, regardless of their living situation.