High Costs Make Hawaii’s Poverty Rate Higher Than U.S. Average
ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER -
The following story was contributed by our partners at the Honolulu Civil Beat.
Nearly 14% of Hawaii residents — more than 192,000 people — live in poverty, according to a new supplemental poverty rate released Tuesday. The new figures show that the state is struggling despite an official poverty rate that compares well with the rest of the U.S.
Hawaii’s official poverty rate was less than 10% in 2018 but the supplemental poverty measure, which averages the three years 2016-18, is much higher because it takes into account the cost of living. The median home price on Oahu in July, for instance, was $835,000, according to the real estate firm Locations Hawaii.
The percentage of people in poverty is down slightly from the previous year’s rate that averaged 2015-2017, which was 15%. The total number of Hawaii residents in poverty also decreased by about 18,000.
The U.S. Census Bureau published the new supplemental poverty rate Tuesday. The national rate was 13.1%. Hawaii is among 16 states where the supplemental poverty rate is higher than the national average.
Nicole Woo, an advocate at the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, said the supplemental poverty rate shows that Hawaii is doing far worse than the official poverty rate would suggest — 13th worst in the nation instead of 8th best.
“Hawaii has the fourth largest gap between the supplemental poverty rate and official poverty rate, which shows how the cost of living really skews the official poverty rate,” she said. “The official poverty rate is just not a very accurate measure, unfortunately.”
Woo noted that the new census data also showed food stamps reduced poverty in Hawaii by 1.3%, the sixth largest effect in any state. For seniors, the impact of food stamps was even bigger — the third largest reduction in poverty in the nation.
Tuesday’s data release also revealed the latest health insurance rates.
Slightly more people were uninsured in Hawaii in 2018 than in 2017 — 4.1% versus 3.8%. But the difference was within the margin of error. The increase coincided with a national rise in the uninsured rate from 8.7% to 8.9%.
Hawaii continues to have one of the lowest rates of uninsured residents in the nation. The state requires employers to provide health insurance to all workers who work at least 20 hours per week.