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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 11:14 a.m., Thursday, April 10, 2003

Islands' cost of living prohibitive for poor

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

It's no secret Hawai'i is an expensive place to live, but just how expensive is a matter of some controversy.

A new study released yesterday says the "bare-minimum costs" for living in Hawai'i are as much as three times higher than what the federal government has set as the poverty line for the state.

According to the federal poverty measure, a family of three in Hawai‘i earning more than $17,550 is “not poor.” But a study sponsored by the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women says a single parent with two young kids living in Honolulu needs $38,497 to get by. The cost for the same family rises to $52,874 if they live in Lahaina, Maui, the most expensive spot in the state, according to the study.

The report is meant to be a reference for government, business leaders and others who craft programs and policies affecting working families. It calculates a self-sufficiency standard that takes into account the minimum costs of housing, child care, transportation, food, healthcare and other basic needs depending on where a family lives and the number of family members.

"Unfortunately, many families do not earn self-sufficiency wages, particularly if they have recently entered the work force," said Diana Pearce, a senior lecturer at Washington University, who wrote the report. "They cannot afford their housing and food and child care, much less their other basic needs, forcing them to make painful choices between necessities, or to accept substandard or inadequate child care, insufficient food, or substandard housing."

To bridge that gap, the report recommends opening access to job training and education, subsidized child care, housing, health care and food stamps to low-wage workers.

Other report findings:

• Only two of 10 top occupations in Hawai'i (general and operations managers and registered nurses) pay a higher wage than the self-sufficiency standard for a single parent with one child.

• For families with children, housing and child care are the highest percentage of budget costs.

• A single adult living in certain areas of Honolulu would need to earn $10.71 an hour to be self-sufficient, second highest among cities studied. At the top of that list was San Francisco.

Hawai'i is one of 35 states being studied under a partnership with Wider Opportunities for Women and the University of Washington.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8093.