The Wages of Welfare

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BY MALIA HILL – On the Hawaii Sunshine website, you can get some idea of the extent of our state’s spending on public assistance.

For example, in 2009, the Department of Human Services’ Benefit, Employment, and Support Services Division spent $158,365,210.09 on Public Assistance–including more than $62 million on “cash support for families pursuing self-sufficiency” and more than $2 million in federal assistance payments.


But without some sense of comparison, how do we know where Hawaii stands in the real value of these welfare payments.

Well, according to a recent article in Hawaii Reporter, very well . . . if you’re a welfare recipient, that is. According to a recent study comparing the real value of these combined (and let’s not forget tax-free) benefits across states and taking into account the equivalent account of take-home income a person in that state would receive after taxes, welfare often pays better than work. Especially in Hawaii.

The study calculated that the hourly wage equivalent of welfare benefits in Hawaii is $17.50 per hour. (And for those who think this is purely because of the high cost of living in Hawaii, consider that similarly expensive New York and California clock in at $13.13 and $11.59, respectively.)

To match the value of welfare benefits, a mother of two in Hawaii would have to earn a salary of $36,400 per year. Which is more than the starting salaries for dozens of entry level positions in the state government.

It tends to make you wonder what the incentive is for getting off of welfare.