UH Students

(Left to right) Ma Glodilet Rallojay, Caroline Cech and Allison Fluetsch at the Raise up Hawai'i coalition waiting to testify at the legislature. 

Caroline Cech

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Honors student, majoring in natural esources and environmental management

On Thursday January 31, 2019, I testified for SB789 and SB1248, which proposed to raise the minimum wage in Hawaiʻi to $12 an hour beginning in January 2022 and provide an income tax credit for qualifying small businesses. This was an incredible hearing to witness, because the topics discussed directly affect families in Hawaiʻi and their ability to support themselves. Many stories from those supporting the minimum wage and those opposing it were shared and it really helped to open my eyes to the struggles that families face here in Hawaiʻi.

The repeated message in the fight to raise the minimum wage is that it  would improve quality of life. Many people holding one or even two jobs are houseless. This is appalling. Parents struggle to support their families when they can barely support themselves. Many advocates asking for the minimum wage to be raised to $17 an hour also brought up the burden of having to wait three years for a very small raise, as some have proposed. Going from $10.10 an hour to $12 an hour by 2022 would mean that families would still struggle for years to come. I learned that $34,000 a year is what researchers believe is needed for bare survival in Hawaiʻi. Those who make $10.10 and work full time only make $21,000 a year. Clearly this falls far short of what families need.

One story really moved me at the hearing. It was a woman from the Big Island who worked with drug and alcohol abusers in rehab and was also a counselor. She said that because the minimum wage is so low, people are dying. She told us how she knew a mother who killed herself just so her children could go into foster care because she couldn’t afford to support them anymore. She believed that if she killed herself, the state would have to step in and help her children. This was shocking to me. Because families don’t make living wages, they are driven to desperate measures. They believe that they are a burden and die for their children to perhaps get a better life. The testifier told us how homelessness and the low minimum wage increases drug and alcohol addiction. They are trapped in a cycle that abusers can’t break. They decide one day to get clean, go to rehab, get a minimum wage job, don’t make nearly enough to support themselves, struggle with finding a place to live and food to eat, and eventually return to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.

What kind of message is this sending people in Hawai'i? How can the government and legislators sit there and watch people die because they can’t support themselves even when working full time?

This story of the woman who killed herself is not unique. So many mothers and fathers and even people without children are choosing desperate measures while struggling to make ends meet. Another man shared his story of being a college graduate and still having to use his father’s money in order to get by in Hawaiʻi, even with a job making over $10.10. If this man, a college graduate, can’t even support himself, how are parents supposed to support their families? The simple answer is that they can’t, and minimum wage needs to be raised to $17 an hour so that it is a living wage.

This hearing really showed me how connected family health and minimum wage are, and that working families across the entire state are affected. People shouldn’t be living on the streets if they are working a job, and parents shouldn’t feel like they have to die in order for their families to get government help. The fight for a living wage is so incredibly important in Hawaiʻi and it is vital that the public is heard. Families need a living wage, and hearings like the one I attended move us closer to a better quality of life that the people of this beautiful state deserve and so desperately need.

Allison Fluetsch

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Honors student, majoring in political science

While in attendance at the Senate Committee of Labor, Culture, and the Arts hearing for living wage bills SB789 and SB1248, I had the opportunity to not only personally witness the deliberative process of government, but also to listen to a variety of experiences that shared the all too common struggle for survival in Hawaiʻi. It was evident from the testimony we heard that many continue to suffer in attempts to make a living here while being paid less than a living wage. Numerous careers, crucial for our society to function, are paid below a living wage: caretakers, bus drivers, garbage collectors, etc. These full time, physically and mentally demanding careers do not provide enough for the individual, let alone their dependents.

Families are most certainly impacted in a multitude of ways through these low wages, and are the first to pay the price of a less than living wage. Parents work two or three jobs in order to put food on the table.  However, the pressure of constantly working takes away from the time they can spend with their young children who are in the important early stages of cognitive development. Few older parents and family members make enough to provide assistance for their adult children. With little professional experience and the challenge of seeking a degree with little money, the majority of these young adults are forced to try to get by on the hourly pay of $10.10 and the punishing cycle of not making enough. Single parents especially face an overwhelming burden, as told through the tragic testimony about a woman from the Big Island who took her life in hope that her children would live better under the guardianship of the state. 

When businesses do not pay a living wage, taxpayers bear the cost of the consequences.

Family members have no choice but to provide those who are struggling a spot on the couch, for free or for whatever they can pay. One man testified that allowing businesses to pay labor less than what it costs to keep the labor alive does not diminish the true cost of that labor. Instead, it is a cost borne in one way or another by the family first, as well as by the state, and thus by the taxpayers of Hawaiʻi.

If you would like to submit an op-ed, email editor@kaleo.org