Hawaii Residents Do Have Choices About Jobs and Housing

Revised from the original post.

[Local Hawaii high school and college graduates typically receive so many lei only their eyes are visible. This girl may have more family to proudly lei her. I love, love, love this aloha from my home state.]

If you are curious about the economic landscape of jobs and housing in Hawaii, you will get a clearer picture from MidWeek article “The Future Lies Elsewhere,” by columnist Bob Jones (Jones 8) and my rebuttal to his message.

Jones is convinced Hawaii politicians must acknowledge that Hawaii has reached its limit of jobs and housing.

But is that true?

There are fewer jobs in some sectors—computer science and mechanical or chemical engineering—and lots of jobs in other areas—education, nursing, medical, construction, law, accounting, business, and food services.

construction guys working on dirt lot to put in foundation
worksite in East Honolulu, photo by Wendi Lau

Hawaii jobs tend to pay less, which is inconvenient for coping with the high cost of living. But there are jobs. You stay in Hawaii if you crave what we offer: family, weather, aloha, and outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, surfing, and hiking. You must earn your way here.

Housing: saving and avoiding urban woes

Residents pay for what they want and can afford. Thousands of West Oahu commuters would rather commute about two hours a day and live with the rest of their family, if possible, to save thousands in rent or mortgage each month. Many also prefer roomier, friendlier, safer neighborhoods outside of Honolulu. They could save time and buy or rent a small apartment in Honolulu, but they choose not to, and I’m one of them.

Photo by Simon Clancy on flickr.

I don’t want to live in town on a busy street my dog or a small child could quickly die on if they escaped the property gate. Busy intersections are unacceptably dangerous to pedestrians at certain times of day, even ones in residential neighborhoods.

Although living in Honolulu would save gas money, reduce wear on the car, and save time, dangerous traffic, closed off neighbors (in condominiums and apartment buildings), and parks full of homeless in the urban center are spectacularly unappealing factors.

A typical single-family home in Hawaii: 1,94 sq. ft., 3 br, 2 ba, rent $2,900, sale price of similar-sized homes is upwards of $750,000-$1 million+. This size home often houses two or more generations.

The right price

There are jobs and housing for the right price. If you want a higher salary than what you find here, you leave. If you want more house for the money, you leave. Everyone else, we make do. We make choices. Here is where we want to be.

I trained my kids to choose fields affording them a comfortable Hawaii lifestyle, if that’s what they wanted. That meant STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) all the way. They could be creative in their free time. My daughter informs me that computer programming is a very creative problem-solving field, not for rigid, rule-following thinkers.

A teacher married to a social worker cannot buy a home without their parents providing the down payment. This can be as high as 20% of $800,000 (median single-family home price); $160,000 is no small chunk. This explains the ubiquitous nature of multigenerational households in Hawaii. No shame to save money when you’re not bringing in much to begin with.

A small home is still a home

This doesn’t mean you can’t afford to live here. You rent something small—a studio apartment or a room in someone’s house—and live frugally. It is a choice. And a small home doesn’t matter if you spend most of your time at work, with friends, and enjoying the outdoors. How much square feet does one need to watch tv, eat, and sleep?

Living in Hawaii isn’t easy. Ya gotta want it.

Match work to the desired lifestyle

Hawaii’s future lies in being honest with kids about what they need to do to stay here.

“Want your own place? Research rents. Don’t forget the deposit, and usually no pets allowed. Otherwise, that’s another month deposit up front.”

“What income, after taxes, do you need?”

“What jobs offer an adequate salary? Which of these jobs interest you?”

Parents of middle school students should be having this conversation with them.

“This is reality. These are your choices.”

Want to be an employee? Consider civil or structural engineering, nursing, law, information technology, medical technology, and cybersecurity.

Want to work with your hands? Pay attention. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can. When you eventually own a business you have more control and income.

If you work for yourself prepare to hustle, be unorthodox, and work your ass off. Entrepreneurs cannot afford complacency.

My dad delivered pizzas, picked mangoes, and sold solar panels door-to-door in the 1970s (not a winning proposition). Now, as a 73-year-old self-employed architect, he still hustles for clients and works every day.

If you like stability and regulations, get a government job and prepare for bureaucracy.

Image by Andry Richardson from Pixabay

What we do for work, where we live—those are choices. People who move away make different choices. We do not “lack good jobs” and our cost of living is not too high for what we’re getting:

  • Low violent crime
  • Access to nature and outdoor activities
  • Ideal weather
  • Family
  • Culture and food

Do I wish salaries were higher and housing was cheaper? You bet. It is what it is.

Someone with no skills or hustle is going to struggle.

Waimano Stream. Photo by Wendi Lau.

Being true to what we need and want

Relationships with grandparents are strong in a state full of multigenerational households and frequent family gatherings.
Image by lin2867 from Pixabay

Hawaii’s not for everyone. It must call to you for you to want to be here, overcoming the inconvenience of traffic, bureaucracy, and expenses.

The people and the energy of the land draw a soul, similar, I imagine, to the pull of Israel or Ireland for some. Being from here doesn’t mean you should stay. Your calling may be elsewhere, as for several of my cousins.

We who stay or return are no less than you who go.

Comparing locals to the population chronicled in Hillbilly Elegy, Bob Jones states, “We’re like those Kentucky hollows people…We stay with the people we know best.” Describing further, “It’s a Pacific island thing, this clinging to the group and the hometown.”

For those who feel the pull of family and the land stronger than that of higher salaries, more house, and busier cities on the mainland, we choose this.

I lived on the mainland for seven years and intended to stay in any place where properties were described in acres not square feet, and a single mother and school teacher could afford a house on a 1/4 acre (Battle Creek, Michigan in the 1980s). But Hawaii called me back after graduate school. I felt it in my bones, and guess what-the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance was in full swing. Hawaiian musicians Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, Amy Hanaiali`i, Willie K, and Keali`i Reichel united and moved thousands, while the Merrie Monarch Festival begun by King David Kalakaua regained its pageantry and viewership. And I met my husband!

So, here I am, not following the original plan at all.

And here I stay.


Jones, Bob. “The Future Lies Elsewhere.” MidWeek, 21 August 2019, p. 8.

Magan, Janis L. “Construction healthy despite Hawaii’s slowing economy, UHERO says.” Pacific Business News, 4 October 2019. https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2019/10/04/construction-healthy-despite-hawaiis-slowing.html.

Hanaiali`i, Amy and Willie K. (1998). Hanaiali’i [CD]. Mountain Apple Company: Hawaii.

Kamakawiwo`ole, Israel. (1995). E Ala E [CD]. Big Boy Records: Hawaii.

Reichel, Keali`i. (1993) Kawaipunahele [CD]. Punahele Records: Hawaii.

Featured image University of Hawaii West Oahu Fall 2011 Commencement on flickr

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