Archive for January 2016

What is self-sufficiency in Hawaii?

January 26, 2016

Last month, the State of Hawaii, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism released an update about living and working in Hawaii: “Self-Sufficiency Income Standard: Estimates for Hawaii 2014” (December 2015). The report focuses on “economic self-sufficiency,” which is defined as “the amount of money that individuals and families require to meet their basic needs without government and/or other subsidies,” assuming that adults are working full-time (40-hours a week), with one or more jobs. It calculates seven factors on the cost of living: housing, food, child care, transportation, clothing, household expenses, and taxes.

To live in Hawaii in 2014, it’s estimated that an adult would need to earn $31,049 and two adults would need $40,756; one adult with one child would need to earn $53,766, one adult with two children would need $65,748, and two adults with two children would need $72,737. About 18.5% of two-adult couples, 45.3% of single-adult families, and 45.5% of two-adult couples with two children earned less in 2014 – without government aid.  Almost half of young parents are earning less than the self-sufficiency income level.

Of note: monthly self-sufficiency family budgets for residents of  Honolulu in 2014 are higher than the statewide family budgets.

2014 Honolulu Self-Sufficiency Family BudgetsAs I was reading the report, I thought about what it means to be self-sufficient in Hawaii:

* Self-sufficiency can be correlated with life stages. The report compares self-sufficiency by five family types – the number of adults and children in a household. It is unreasonable to compare a recent high school or college graduate’s lifestyle and income to someone with more working experience and skills. An alternative would be to compare self-sufficiency by “life stages” – young adults and families, and mature adults and families. Younger adults generally are expected to have lower cost of living expenses and lower wage earnings. Mature adults generally have higher cost of living expenses (due to home and vehicle ownership), higher wage earnings, and more savings.

* Hawaii has diverse family types. As the report acknowledges, there are other family “prototypes” that do not fit in with the five family types in the study. Adults living with roommates and multi-generational families can reduce their housing expenses and child care costs. Hawaii also has a strong culture of taking care of older generations, which may add to household expenses and healthcare costs. In Hawaii we are already changing our expectations for home ownership, adapting to the high cost of housing with workforce housing, multi-generational homes, and accessory dwelling units. Maybe we can take it a step further and allow people to co-own property, owning rooms or floors instead of separate apartments, with common area as a kitchen and living room.

* Hawaii needs food self-sufficiency. The report focuses on food costs, assuming that “all ingredients for meals and snacks are purchased at stores and prepared at home” using a “low cost plan” nutritional standard. Though it is a separate issue, food self-sufficiency – the ability to grow, hunt, fish, forage, or barter for our own food – is especially important in Hawaii. If we can encourage food self-sufficiency, such as changing residential development regulations to require community farms, we may be able to reduce our imported food costs and improve our nutrition.

* Is economic self-sufficiency the best way to measure Hawaii’s self-sufficiency? Most of us rely on income (money) to live – we don’t build our own homes, grow or catch our own food, or make our own clothing. But Hawaii’s dependence on money, income, and government aid is relatively recent; it’s been less than 200 years since Hawaii relied on a subsistence economy and less than 100 years since Hawaii was dominated by plantations. While I don’t advocate a return to a subsistence economy or plantation life, perhaps there is a model for self-sufficiency that fits our island community better than money.

Do you think that the report’s minimum income to live in Hawaii is accurate? How do you measure economic self-sufficiency?

Life without a hard drive

January 19, 2016

Life without a hard drive

For three weeks last year, I lived life without a hard drive. Overnight, my desktop computer broke down. My computer-savvy husband took apart my computer, declared that I needed a new hard drive, and ordered a new one for me. But it meant that I would be without my computer for over a week.


Of course, I still had Internet access to on a laptop computer and a tablet, and I could still check my email accounts, read online news, and browse the Internet. But I didn’t have easy access to most of my personal documents and photos.


For those of you who don’t understand why this is such a big deal, think about losing your smart phone for a week. Think about losing access to your contacts, your text messages, and your photos. Think about waiting in line with nothing to do except talk to someone standing in line next to you.


After days of anxiety and withdrawal, I started to breathe easier. I didn’t feel as tied to my digital “stuff.” I learned a few things about myself and how I relate to the digital world:


I learned that a lot of the paperwork, records, stories and poems I’ve written, and digital debris on my hard drive aren’t really important. They can be re-written, replaced, and recompiled. Those documents make me feel more in control of my life, but they also add clutter to my digital life.


I learned that photos and videos are important, possibly the most important things on my computer, but they are not as important as enjoying the present. Like souvenirs and mementos, they preserve happy memories – but I don’t need to reminisce about the past every day.


I learned that a big part of my life – the proof that I am me and that I matter – can be distilled onto a small, portable, easily displaced, fragile USB drive (one that will probably be unreadable in the near future). It’s scary and a little humbling.


Today, I have a new hard drive. It took me several days to reinstall my applications and setup my computer just the way that I like it. I was lucky; I didn’t lose any of my data. But If I had lost my digital photos and documents, I could have started over again.


How much do you rely on your personal computer, tablet, or smart phone? What would you do if you lost your hard drive or smart phone for a week?

Reviewing Hawaii’s FY 2017 supplemental budget

January 12, 2016

Hawaii FY 2017 Supplemental Budget

“The Administration aims to change the trajectory of Hawaii by restoring faith in government and establishing the Hawaiian Islands as a place future generations choose to call home,” the State of Hawaii assured residents in “The FY 2017 Executive Supplemental Budget,” a Budget in Brief dated December 21, 2015.

I understand that Hawaii projects its budget several years in advance. I realize that we all have unplanned emergencies and unexpected expenses. But I’m dismayed by the size of the supplemental budget – a net request of $297.6 million in FY 2017, an increase of 4.4%. And I felt uncomfortable with how easy it was to consider a few million dollars as a “small amount.”

After reviewing the budget overview, here are some highlights from the FY 2017 supplemental budget:

The operating budget is increasing by $297.6 million. “For FY 17, total proposed general fund adjustments to the operating budget amount to a net increase of $297.6 million, or 4.4% more than the current appropriation level of $6.8 billion.” The three largest expenditures are $163.9 million for other post-employment benefits (OPEB), $31.6 million for health premium payments and health care payments, and $26.5 million for the Department of Education (DOE) Weighted Student Formula.

The capital improvements program budget is increasing by $1.8 billion. “For FY 17, total proposed Capital Improvements Program (CIP) adjustments amount to a net increase of $14.3 million in general funds,” plus $891.8 million in general obligation (G.O.) bond funds. The three largest expenditures are $160.5 million for a patient care facility at the Hawaii State Hospital, $146 million for affordable housing and rental housing, and $84.5 million for construction and maintenance of nine correctional centers and facilities.

Hawaii wants to hire even more state employees… The supplemental budget calls for 235 permanent new hires and 16 temporary new hires. The biggest FTE permanent staffing increases are 64 positions for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority’s multi-skilled worker program, 30 positions in the Department of Taxation, 25 positions for the Office of Enterprise Technology Services, 22 positions for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, and 20 positions for UH’s Hawaii Research and Innovation Initiative.

While struggling to keep our promises to existing state employees. According to the supplemental budget, “A significant portion of general funds – $163.9 million of the $297.6 million requested – is to increase the funding level for OPEB (other post-employment benefits) to 100% of the ARC in FY 17.”

There are some surprising budget requests: $35 million for a new classroom building at Campbell High School (the only public school construction project singled-out). $16.1 million to “address enrollment capacity issues at public schools, statewide” (which seems unnecessary, vague, and expensive). 20 FTE permanent positions and $3.5 million to “develop an innovation-based entrepreneurial system to create high quality jobs (this sounds like a self-fulfilling program).

And some public school snark: “The DOE was unable to provide air conditioning for our public schools when temperatures reached record highs making students miserable and unable to perform to their potential,” which is balanced by a $30 million request for “heat abatement improvements” at public schools.

Unfortunately, there are planned no budget or staffing reductions.

What surprises you about the FY 2017 supplemental budget? Do you think that any department would admit that its services could be combined with another department? Would any program admit that it doesn’t need as much money as it requested?

7 lessons from “Star Wars 7”

January 5, 2016

Lessons from Star Wars 7

After a long, tantalizing wait, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” finally premiered in theaters. My 9-year old son was almost as excited about seeing the movie as he was about Christmas. I was possibly even more excited than my son was. We had reserved seats, so we didn’t need to stand in line, but there’s something about waiting in a crowd of excited fans that made me feel energized and nostalgic.

From the moment the silver “Lucasfilm” logo appeared on screen, I was enthralled. This time, watching “The Force Awakens,” I wasn’t merely a fan – I was also a parent, and I started to see things in the movie that I wanted to share with my son.

Caution: There are some minor spoilers below, so if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read any further.

Woven throughout the far-away worlds, space battles, and light saber fights, there are 7 lessons I hope my son learns from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”:

  1.  It’s okay to question authority. We teach children to follow directions, but we should also teach them to make their own decisions. Finn (FN-2187) has been trained to obey orders, but when he is ordered to kill defenseless villagers, he refuses to do it. He starts to question everything he has been taught.
  2.  Do the right thing. Follow your conscience. Once Finn has decided that the First Order is wrong, he doesn’t hesitate to take action. He decides to escape from the First Order and rescue the captive Poe, without even knowing whether Poe can fly a TIE fighter. “Why are you helping me?” Poe asks. Finn replies, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
  3.  Stand up to bullies, because everyone deserves respect. If you see someone getting bullied or hurt, and can help them safely, then take action. Rey heard the droid BB-8’s distress, rescued it from Teedo, and fixed its antenna. She tells BB-8, “That’s just Teedo. He’s got no respect for anyone.”
  4. Family and friends are more important than money. Be loyal to your friends. Unkar Plutt offers Rey a lot of food rations, possibly more food than she has ever had, in exchange for selling BB-8. But she values BB-8’s friendship over personal gain. Of course, there’s another lesson: slavery is wrong.
  5. Help one person. You can’t save everyone, but you can make a difference in one person’s life. Finn knows the First Order first-hand, and he doesn’t believe that the Resistance can win against them. But when Rey is taken captive, Finn is committed to rescuing her.
  6. See the best in people. Accept that people make mistakes, and look for the good in them. Han Solo is afraid that they have lost their son forever, but Leia refuses to give up hope. “There’s still light in him, I know.”
  7. Home is the people you love. Home is not a place; it is the people you love and who love you. Rey is afraid to leave Jakku, but Maz Kanata tells Rey that she needs to look in front of her for her family. Later, Leia asks Han to bring their son home – not to the Resistance, but to their family.

Have you watched “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or do you plan to watch it? What have you learned about the Force and the Star Wars universe? Which movies do you look forward to watching this year?

“Move Your Bus” by Ron Clark

January 2, 2016

Move Your Bus

Imagine that your company is a bus. The bus has no tank and no gas, because it is powered entirely by the people who are the team – including you.

Look around and you’ll find that there are five kinds of people on the bus: Runners, Joggers, Walkers, Riders, and Drivers. The Runners are the top performers. The Joggers are the conscientious workers. The Walkers are low contributors who need motivation. The Riders are people who are dead weight and should be kicked off the bus. The Drivers are the leaders who have a vision of where the bus is going.

This is the way that author, educator, and Ron Clark Academy (RCA) founder Ron Clark envisions his organization in “Move Your Bus: An Extraordinary New Approach to Accelerating Success in Work and Life” (2015). He uses the analogy of a bus, as well as stories and parables about RCA teachers and staff, to teach methods of inspiring people and fostering a culture of excellence at every level, whether your company is a school, business, or non-profit. It is based on the belief that “we all face the same high-stakes challenges” in every business sector and organization.

While it’s not a perfect analogy, the designations of Runners, Joggers, Walkers, and Riders really work. They are a helpful and informal way to gear projects and rewards to different team members. At times, it’s a little simplistic; people fluctuate between designations, depending on what is going on in the company and in their lives. Realistically, most people can’t be a Runner every day without facing burn-out. Or they might Run on some projects and Jog on others.

Clark believes that you must have high expectations of people, including yourself; and holding yourself accountable for equipping people to meet those expectations. He offers three key messages: 1) treat people fairly, but not necessarily equally – rewards have to be earned; 2) every single person within an organization has a contribution to make; and 3 ) you can always find a way to contribute at a higher level or do a better job.

Clark offers a lot of practical advice for employees. If you’re not already a Runner, I’d like to highlight 7 tips to help transform yourself into a Runner:

  1. Ask for help. Show that you care about a project enough to be sure you get it right.
  2. Accept criticism. Respond with “Good idea, I’ll remember that for next time” or “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again” or “I’ll fix it now.”
  3. Offer to help, even with small menial tasks. When someone else is doing the hard work, look for ways to support them.
  4. Engage in positive conversations. “How can we make things better?” and “How can we make a positive change?” and “I’m sorry to hear that, but can I tell you one bright spot in my day?”
  5. Realize that you are not entitled to the job. Be grateful for your job, thankful to be part of a team, and work hard to earn recognition.
  6. Be credible. Honor your commitments and don’t make commitments you can’t keep.
  7. Pay attention to details. Everyday courtesy and thoughtful gifts are important. Choose to see the positive. Don’t make excuses. Keep personal and work lives and emotions separate. Don’t assume you’re awesome. Work hard and be efficient.

For people in the Driver’s seat, Clark offers leadership advice to help accelerate the bus:

* Focus on Runners. Praise them and support them, and they will become even more driven. Overlook small mistakes so you don’t discourage them. Say “yes” to their new ideas as often as possible, and let them try new things, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

* Help Joggers to be their best selves. Give them projects that are a good fit and give them praise.

* Show Walkers how to improve. Teach them better ways to do things.

* Decide if Riders can be improved – or if they need to be kicked off the bus.

* Delegate grunt work to Walkers and Riders. If they don’t volunteer for small tasks, ask them, “Could you help us out?”

What kind of team member are you on your professional bus? Do you aspire to be a Runner or Driver? Who do you allow on your personal bus – people who help you succeed, or people slow you from accomplishing your goals?