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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 12, 2005

Native Hawaiian census numbers down

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer


The number of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders living in Hawai'i declined during the past four years even as all other race categories increased, according to estimates released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau estimated that on July 1, 2004, there were 279,651 people who could consider themselves Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. That was down 1.3 percent from the 283,430 in the category on April 1, 2000.

Statewide, the 2004 estimates show total population rising to 1,262,840 in 2004, about 4.2 percent higher than the 1,211,537 posted as the official population in the 2000 U.S. Census.

The 2004 estimates also showed that the four other race categories — Asians, whites, blacks/African-American, and Native Americans/Alaska natives all increased their numbers in Hawai'i.

Eugene Tian, an economist and research and statistics officer for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the decline in the number of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders is a significant one.

And while there is no hard evidence, Tian said an analysis of the numbers indicates that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders may be leaving Hawai'i.

He noted that the age groups on the decline are children and adults of prime child-rearing age, between 20 and 40. "From the data, it looks like they're migrating out of the state," he said.

State Health Director Chiyome Fukino said information her staff gathered could back up Tian's theory.

The birth rate and death rate for Native Hawaiians have remained "fairly constant" over the last four years, Fukino said.

"It can be presumed, but not proven, that out-migration, meaning the movement of people from Hawai'i to the Mainland, is possibly contributing to this decrease in the population," she said.

However, Clyde Namu'o, administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are either moving out of the state or simply not reporting themselves in the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander category.

For the first time in 2000, the Census had a separate Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander race category, and the count showed more than twice as many Hawaiians as had been estimated a decade before.

Also for the first time, people had the option of choosing from one of 63 race options, also including "white," "black or African American," "American Indian and Alaska Native" and "Asian."

Tian said that in coming up with its 2004 estimates, the Census Bureau looked at birth and death statistics to calculate what's known as natural growth. To measure migration and immigration, it evaluated federal tax returns, school enrollment figures, Medicare membership and a questionnaire conducted by the Census Bureau itself known as the American Community Survey.

The new statistics come as Native Hawaiian organizations — from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to Kamehameha Schools — are fighting legal challenges to their Hawaiians-first or Hawaiians-only programs.

Tian pointed out that the biggest drop for Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders was in the age group between 0 and 4 years old, which went from 29,574 in 2000 to 23,755 in 2004, or about 20 percent. He speculated that was caused by the number of those in the 20-to-40 age bracket who are moving away. That would also explain why all other age categories involving children also saw a decrease, he said.

Up through age 39, the only Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders age category that saw an increase was those who are 20-24. The number of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 40 and over appear to be increasing, with the exception of those in the 65-69 and 70-74 age groups.

Tian said it's hard to determine whether the trend is long-term because there are no numbers with which to compare. It wasn't until the 2000 Census that people were allowed to specify more than one racial category when they stated they were of more than one race.

"They're apples and oranges," Tian said, when asked if he could compare 2000 numbers with those of the 1990 Census.

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, a professor with the University of Hawai'i's Hawaiian Studies Program, said the statistics saddened her but were not surprising.

"It's not that they want to leave, but Hawaiians are needing to leave Hawai'i because of economic reasons," Kame'eleihiwa said.

Others in the Hawaiian community said that if Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are leaving in large numbers, they are only part of an out-migration to the continental United States that is also being felt by other races.

Jade Danner, Information & Government Affairs Manager for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, noted that a number of key age categories among Asians in Hawai'i also saw a decrease, although she added "the exodus is most apparent in the NHPI populations."

Danner echoed Kame'eleihiwa's concerns. "Our young people are leaving because of a lack of economic opportunity, plain and simple," she said. "We must find a way to strengthen our existing economies, and diversify into new areas."

Namu'o, the OHA administrator, said if a significant number of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are leaving the state, it makes sense they are doing so because of the high cost of living. Many may be moving to California, Nevada or other locales where homes, and other needs, cost less, he said.

Kathy Tibbets, who is with the policy analysis and system evaluations arm of Kamehameha Schools, said the census and DBEDT numbers appear to be "a little low" compared to the numbers her staff has been tracking.

Tibbets said her numbers showed that births dipped between 1990 and 1997 and have since gone back on the upswing.