BY VICTOR GEMINIANI – The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice has recently completed the attached report entitled “The State of Poverty in Hawaii and How to Restore Our Legacy of Fairness.”
The economic turmoil we have experienced over the past few years has affected all of us living in Hawai`i, but the poor have clearly suffered the most. Nearly 132,000 of our state’s residents live in poverty, including 41,230 children—14 percent of all of the state’s children. The figures contained in this report underline the many daunting barriers to self-achievement that they face every day:
- Hawai`i has the third highest homelessness rate among the states, with an increase of 11 percent between 2010 and 2011. Of these homeless individuals, 42 percent are children.
- Hawai`i’s housing costs are the highest in the nation. Our median rent is 50 percent more than the national rate, and 75 percent of our low-income households spend more than half of their income on rent.
- Two-thirds of single adult families with one or two children are below the self-sufficiency level, while 18.5 percent of two-adult families with two children also fall below it.
- Between 2008 and 2010, the need for benefits spiked, with a 13 percent increase in families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and a 17 percent increase in the amount of time on assistance; the number of people receiving state medical assistance jumped 22 percent; and applications to federally qualified health centers increased 62 percent.
- A “thrifty food plan,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, costs 61 percent more in Hawai`i than on the mainland. Enrollment in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) has increased by 39 percent since 2007, while 15 percent of our households don’t always know how they’ll get their next meal.
- At the same time low-income individuals and families need them the most, social service organizations that provide protection from violence, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness have had their budgets reduced by 18.5 percent and staffing cuts of 16 percent.
While low-income people have been suffering, the more privileged sectors of our community have continued to prosper. During the recession, Hawai`i continued to rank near the top in the number of millionaires per capita; in fact, the number actually increased 18 percent. Even more alarmingly, our heavily regressive tax system means that those living in poverty pay almost twice the total tax rate of those earning above $400,000.
Although the current state of people living in poverty looks bleak, we do have the power to address this crisis and strengthen our community through strategic government initiatives that can help restore opportunities for self-achievement and fairness. This report contains a number of policy recommendations that will help our state reach these goals by raising revenue through progressive tax policies, taking full advantage of federal funds and programs, and investing in programs that emphasize preventative measures to social problems. Laying this groundwork for a better future will enrich lives, reduce poverty, and ultimately save the state money.
Ensuring fair and equal opportunity for all citizens must move to the forefront of our political and social dialogue. To preserve our economic stability, human capital, and long-term well-being, Hawai`i must restore its legacy of fairness. Should we fail to act now, this crisis may irreversibly damage our community as increasingly more people are dragged into poverty by inequitable policies and inefficient use of available resources.
We thank you for taking the time to read the report and hope that it will raise awareness while sparking a vigorous dialogue about solutions to the crisis facing people in poverty.
See the report here: State of Poverty report FINAL
Victor Geminiani is the Executive Director with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. More on the web at www.lejhawaii.org