For a lot of people, Hawai'i is paradise. Hawai'i is home to beautiful, lush islands with rich culture, strong familial bonds, and an unbreakable sense of community. Many people move here to escape the noise of the mainland, have a chance to start anew, and take advantage of the warm climate and general laid-back attitude dominant across much of the islands. For these reasons, Hawai'i should be the ideal place to live, right?
Unfortunately, population statistics from the past few years prove otherwise. Instead of seeing a horde of people and families moving to the Hawaiian islands, we are instead seeing a mass migration away from the islands and to the mainland United States.1 Whether these people have lived in Hawai'i for their whole lives or decided to try living in Hawai'i for a short while before they decided to move back to the mainland, Hawai'i is seeing more and more people decide to leave their island lives behind.
In fact, in the past few years, Hawai'i has experienced "the third-fastest population decline in the entire nation,"2 indicating an increasing phenomenon plaguing Hawaiian citizens. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, the net population decrease reached over 10,000 people, with O'ahu (the most populated of the Hawaiian islands) experiencing almost all of the population fall with an estimated decrease of well over 12,000 people.3
If Hawai'i is considered such a paradise and a comfortable community environment to live in, then why is it experiencing such a sharp decline in population? For those who have spent enough time on the islands, the main answer is simple: the extremely high cost of living.
From high income taxes to housing costs, the price tag attached to life in Hawai'i has only increased over the past several years, especially due to governmental regulations regarding land use, zoning, and housing policies that prevent enough housing from being created despite increased demand for affordable living accommodations.4 As a result, very few people are able to purchase homes, rent is often out of reach for many local families, and only those who earn well into 6-figures are able to afford to live comfortably.
Renting is also much more expensive than in the majority of the mainland, with a studio ranging from $1,000-$1,600 per month, a one-bedroom ranging from $1,500-$2,000, a two-bedroom or house starting at $1,800, and a luxurious and new one-bedroom condo starting at $3,000 (without utilities). Home prices are also at record highs, with the median sales price of a single-family home reaching $1.1 million, while the median for a condo is over half a million dollars.5
The second reason why people are most likely to leave Hawai'i for the mainland is better career opportunities and better chances of being paid higher,6 which works hand-in-hand with Hawaiian residents' primary concern of high living costs.
In a discussion about the cost of living in Hawai'i in 2022 featuring our own James Chan, Real Estate And Living Hawai'i (REAL) found that a salary of $203,070 per year is necessary in order to "live happily," while the average salary in Hawai'i is a drastically lower $69,000 and the average salary in the U.S. is an even lower $53,924.7
Although there has been more demand for these homes despite their high prices, this demand has not outweighed the rate at which people choose to move out of Hawai'i, nor has it aided local families.
As a result, it is common to see groups of people living together, whether someone lives with several other roommates or multiple generations of a family live in the same home. The latter way of living on the islands has become extremely common as an effective method to conserve and share costs, as well as helps to build family bonds and contributes to the comfortable "aloha spirit" present around the islands. In fact, Honolulu Magazine estimates that at least 250,000 locals (or around 18% of Hawai'i's total population in 20188) lived in multigenerational homes in 2018, with that number only increasing (especially due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic).9
Though the high cost of living is something that Hawaiian residents need to be constantly vigilant about, there is so much about Hawai'i that keeps many families here despite increasing expenses. The beautiful year-round tropical weather, laid-back and relaxed atmosphere, and mixture of various (mainly Asian and Native Hawaiian) cultures means children raised here can more aptly learn not only how to respect others' cultures but how to enjoy what they have. The aloha spirit imbued within those raised in Hawai'i can be brought around the world and to the mainland, where positivity and emphasis on family and community support can be shared- And this is something that cannot be bought.
1 Grassroot Institute of Hawai'i, "It's not a mystery why people are leaving Hawai'i." 2021.
2 Grassroot Institute of Hawai'i.
3 State of Hawai'i Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties in Hawaii: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021." 2022.
4 Grassroot Institute of Hawai'i.
5 Real Estate And Living Hawai'i, "Cost of Living in Hawai'i 2022." 2022.
6 Real Estate And Living Hawai'i.
7 Real Estate And Living Hawai'i.
8 State of Hawai'i Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, "2018 State Population Estimates." 2018.
9 HONOLULU Advertising Staff, "Learn How to Build a Successful Multigenerational Home in Hawai'i." Honolulu Magazine, 2021.