ANALYSIS: Low Unemployment in Hawaii, But We’re Still Broke

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It’s a common complaint you hear across the islands, whether at a grocery store or a gas station.

“Brah, I steh broke-ass!”

Whether or not you filled out your latest US census form using those exact words, if you’re a Hawai`i resident, you may agree with the above statement.

Not that the national media feels sorry for you.

Blame that in part on our rosy-looking jobs situation. While 7.3% of America’s working population is currently jobless, only 4.7% of Hawaiians are currently without a gig.

With residents here enjoying an average jobless rate less than half of Nevada’s 9.5%, it’s easy to understand how we could end up on an NBC News list of “10 States With Ridiculously Low Unemployment.”


Of course, those numbers are statewide averages, failing to reflect unemployment rates of 6.5% on the Big Island and 8.5% on Molokai.

“Eh, Juss because I work two jobz, no mean I steh rich!”

You may say those words (or at least think them) when strangers in the parking lot ask you for spare change.

But don’t blame them for making poor assumptions. According to national reports, Hawai`i has more millionaire households than almost any other state in the US (over 7% of households are worth upwards of $1 million). That number routinely lands us in the top two  states for “most millionaires” in national rankings.

Hawai`i is home to more millionaires than nearly every US, routinely ranking in the top-two by comparison.

Hawai`i is home to more millionaires than nearly every US state, routinely ranking in the top two by comparison.

The figure is so striking, it led Yahoo! Finance to declare “If you’re ever vacationing in Hawai`i and are a little short on money to pay a bill, don’t worry, there’s a good chance you should be able to find someone there who could pick up the check.”


Add that to your list of “things to try at Louis Vuitton.”

But even if you’re not a 7-percenter, you’re still not likely to be cut much slack for living here. The weather is great, and chances are you rake in more dough than most Americans.

On average, Hawaiians earned around $44,000 per year in 2012, ranking them ahead of 33 other states by income.

Not surprisingly, that figure fails to take into account the cost of living.

Although local media outlets have reported frequently on the prices for housing and electricity being more than twice the national average, it’s hard to find studies on how exactly residents are impacted by the hefty price of, well… everything.


Enter the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

The BEA recently released its own estimates of how price differences among the 50 states (and Washington, DC) impact earnings.

With prices so high, it's easy to feel down in the dumps. Image courtesy BHG photography.

With prices so high, it’s easy to feel down in the dumps. Image courtesy BHG photography.

As noted by the University of Hawai`i’s Economic Research Organization, the BEA data shows that when the hefty prices facing the Aloha State’s residents are taken into account, Hawaiians actually have the 5th lowest income in the country.

Factoring in the cost of living, residents average around $33,000 annually (statewide), compared to the typical income nationally of approximately $37,000.

As for the neighbor islands? We’re even worse-off, with residents bringing in just over $29,000 per year, more than 21% below the national average.

Yes, you have permission to say it. We are, in fact, “broke-ass.”

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