ANALYSIS: Pay in Hawai`i, By the Numbers

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In our last installment of By the Numbers we focused on the issue of wealth in Hawai`i, breaking down (among other things) the various income brackets here in the islands.

Several readers have since written in asking questions like, “How well do certain jobs pay?”

The interactive UHERO Hawaii Jobs Explorer. Click link to the left.

The interactive UHERO Hawaii Jobs Explorer. Click link to the left within the article.

While previous editions of By the Numbers required us to comb through the files of the Hawai`i State Data Book and other government sources, this edition is the first to take advantage of the new “UHERO Dashboard” assembled by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

The dashboard is meant to be an easy, one-stop shop for various facts and figures assembled by DBEDT, and the beta version just so happens to focus on salaries.

What’s in an Average

Before we start, there are two important points to mention. First, each of the following figures represents the average salary earned in an industry (some people are earning much more or much less). Meaning that despite their reputation, somewhere in Hawai`i, there resides a destitute lawyer.


The second point worth stressing is how incredibly service-oriented the Hawai`i economy has become. Decades after the fall of the sugar industry, we really don’t make very much in the way of goods anymore. Tourism, construction, and government-related jobs represent the bulk of our employment, and the figures below reflect this.

More Workers = Less Pay

The overall trend you find in the salaries earned in Hawai`i (and indeed the nation) is: the more people working in a particular occupation, the lower it pays.

Office and administrative personnel represent one of the most common occupations here, at about 15% of the labor force, and average around $35,360 per year. But there is a lot of wiggle room for salaries in those cubicles, with legal secretaries ($45,170) earning almost double what your average bank teller makes.

Stepping out of the office setting, we found that foodservice workers, who make up over 12% of the workforce in Hawai`i, are some of the lowest-paid employees in the state, averaging $25,520 per year overall (however, it is unclear if the DEBT factored in service workers potentially not declaring cash tips, which would lower the average).


Chefs, not surprisingly, earn the most within this group at an average salary of $55,050, while fast-food workers sit at the bottom of the ladder, earning $19,100 yearly.

Rounding out the top-three most commonly held jobs in Hawai`i are the roughly 11% of workers holding sales-related positions.

While the earnings of cashiers and retail clerks won’t come as a shock (both bring in less than $24,000 yearly), the salaries of those in the insurance industry may be lower than you would assume.

Insurance agents in Hawai`i, it turns out, average only $35,000 yearly. By contrast, sitting at the top of the sales totem pole are real estate brokers, who average $71,640 per year.

Math and Science Make Bank


Being good with numbers usually adds to your paycheck.

That’s the overall trend we saw when examining the top-paying jobs in Hawai`i. In almost every case, the highest earning positions required a good understanding of math and/or science. This included business executives with specialized training in accounting and business statistics.

The largest high-paying field in Hawai`i is the ubiquitous specialty known as “management.” Over 34,000 island residents are employed in this category, earning an average salary of just over $87,000.

This encompasses everyone from people overseeing purchasing departments ($76,810 per year) to those running computer information systems ($96,450 per year). Not surprisingly, chief executives sit at the top of this category, earning average salaries of $144,990.

Highly-trained healthcare workers also earn a pretty penny. The roughly 30,000 residents in Hawai`i working in this field average $83,310 per year. But there are wide variations in earnings by occupation.

Healthcare workers are among the highest paid in the state. Image courtesy UH Manoa.

Healthcare workers are among the highest paid in the state. Image courtesy UH Manoa.

While registered nurses earn a healthy $84,750 per year, medical doctors with specialized training in fields like gynecology and surgery can earn in excess of $200,000 yearly, putting them in the top 5% income bracket overall.

Other math or science-heavy fields that enjoy high earnings include engineers (between $80,000 and $90,000 yearly) and computer research scientists ($107,380 per year).

Physicists are some of the highest-paid science-professionals in Hawai`i, but also some of the rarest. Around 110 people in the state work in this field, averaging around $132,000 per year in earnings.

Obscure Jobs that Pay Surprisingly Well

While the earnings of lawyers ($92,620) and judges ($135,790) may not shock you, we came across some obscure occupations in the islands that happen to make a rather nice living.

One of those little-held jobs pays pretty well, despite requiring (we assume) nothing more than a little patience. As it turns out, the 140 or so “meter readers” living in Hawai`i enjoy roughly $50,000 per year in earnings.

Elevator repairmen are rare in Hawai`i, but well-compensated. Image courtesy KONE.

Elevator repairmen are rare in Hawai`i, but well-compensated. Image courtesy KONE.

A little more commonly found, but requiring a much deeper skill set are the state’s 290 elevator repairmen, who average $98,590 per year.

One of the rarest occupations though also happens to be a reasonably lucrative one. The state’s approximately 30 historians manage to earn around $83,000 per year. Just don’t tell that to the 50 or so economists working nearby. They average around $20,000 less.

But far and away, our favorite obscure occupation in Hawai`i is that of the noble “taper.” There are 150 of them here, and yes, they tape things for a living.

These steady-handed masters of adhesive currently enjoy earnings of around $78,000 per year.

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