What is self-sufficiency in Hawaii?

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?

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