LETTER: Why Are Residents Leaving Hawai‘i?

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Why are residents leaving Hawaii?

It’s too expensive.

That’s why most people move away from their beloved Hawaii.

Consider the story of Christopher Peralta, who left Honolulu in 2009 and now lives in Portland. He told the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii:

“I was working three jobs and had nothing to show for it. My home was a cinder block apartment with jalousies and my ride was a moped. I was working just to pay off the essentials: rent, bills, groceries and gas. Any savings I earned were easily swept away. I had time for friends and surf, which I miss the most, but even that couldn’t keep me in the city. My move to Oregon was simply a financial one.”


Then there’s Michael Cheney, who lives in Utah with his wife and three children. Michael was born in Kahuku and told us that he wishes he could have his children grow up in “an aloha-spirit atmosphere,” but it’s a struggle to afford living here with a family. He moved away thinking, “If I want to live in Hawaii, I need to leave Hawaii.” He’s hoping to make enough money to come back and live here comfortably.

Michael and Christopher aren’t unique. Everyone who lives in Hawaii knows someone with a similar story—someone who left because it was the only way to make a living and support their loved ones.

Moving away has always been a fact of life in our islands, but lately it’s been getting worse. For the second year in a row, the state’s population declined. Between July 2017 and July 2018, we lost an average of 10 people per day. Yes, there were more births than deaths. Yes, there were 4,075 people who migrated here from other countries. But we also lost 12,430 residents who moved to the mainland.

There’s no mystery as to why so many people move away. The Christophers, Michaels and thousands of others are very willing to tell their stories … and many of them have, via the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s Facebook page.


It comes down to opportunity. Hawaii is notorious for its high taxes and excessive regulations. Land-use laws have throttled development, and housing here is ridiculously expensive. Hawaii’s cost of living is the highest in the U.S., but policymakers are unwilling to reduce the taxes, fees and other economic barriers that contribute to the problem.

There is a solution that could help reverse the flow of Hawaii residents to the mainland, and it comes down to freedom—expanding the opportunities for both individuals and businesses to prosper. Places that are more economically free tend to prosper. Places that prosper tend to attract more residents—and keep the ones they already have.

If Hawaii’s leaders want to get serious reversing our population loss, they need to lower the cost of living and increase our opportunities to prosper. That means cutting taxes and red tape, allowing more housing, reining in government boondoggles, limiting occupational licensure laws, opposing the Jones Act, and just generally pursuing policies that will help our economy grow.

People aren’t leaving Hawaii because they want to. They’re leaving because they have to. We should be doing everything we can to let people like Christopher and Michael raise their families here, and not drive them to work elsewhere until they can afford to enjoy the aloha spirit.


E hana kākou! (Let’s work together!)

The mission of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is to promote individual liberty, the free market and limited accountable government. 

Letters, commentaries and opinion pieces are not edited by Big Island Now.

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