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Minimum wage hike falls short on Kaua‘i

LIHU‘E – The Kaua‘i County Council is aiming to address the island’s high cost of living for working residents, following the recent announcement that the minimum wage increased to $14 per hour on Jan. 1, 2024.

The increase to $14 per hour on Jan. 1, is the second of four incremental increases implemented by Act 114, which is scheduled to bring the state’s minimum wage up to $18 per hour by 2028.

Act 114, enacted during the 2022 legislative session, first increased the minimum wage from $10.10 to $12 per hour, on Oct. 1, 2022.

The next increase is scheduled for Jan. 1, 2026, when the minimum wage will increase from $14 to $16 per hour. That will be followed by a final $2 increase to get to $18 per hour on Jan. 1, 2028.

Before Act 114, the last minimum wage measure that passed was Senate Bill 2609 in 2014, which increased wages from $7.25 to $10.10 from 2014 to 2018.

In a recent interview with The Garden Island, County Council Member Felicia Cowden called the increase necessary. But she noted that even $18 per hour is not enough “to cover the basics” on Kaua‘i in 2024.

She estimated that a single person needs to make roughly $30 per hour to “have a fighting chance” of affording the high cost of housing, food and other basic living expenses.

According to a December 2023 income standard report by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism’s (DBEDT) Research and Economic Division, single-person households on Kaua‘i needed to earn a minimum salary of $45,092 per year to be self-sufficient in 2022.

That works out to a required hourly wage of approximately $23.49 for an individual working 40 hours per week.

The income standard report, which is conducted by the DBEDT every two years, also showed Kaua‘i had the highest cost of living compared to the state’s other islands. Maui ranked as the second most expensive county, with a required annual self-sufficiency salary of $43,450 for a single-person household, followed by Honolulu at $41,896 and Hawai‘i Island at $34,970. That works out to a statewide average of $41,245.

The report, which used 2022 data, also states that 42.9 percent of single-person adults statewide had salaries below the self-sufficiency level.

Based on the report’s information, the current minimum wage of $14 per hour was still approximately $9.49 below a living wage in 2022.

According to Cowden, the $2 minimum wage increase will likely not have much of an impact on most Kaua‘i residents, who said that many small businesses and service work businesses have been paying more than $18 per hour since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the hardest things is businesses can’t stay open for the hours for which they have the potential because they can’t even find people to work,” she said.

“When you look at things like Pizza Hut. They have signs out for $25 an hour, you know, to deliver pizza,” she said.

The Garden Island could not confirm the Pizza Hut delivery driver pay, but saw recent signs for starting positions at Costco in Lihue for $19.50 per hour, as well as the Lihue McDonald’s advertising its starting pay as $15 to $21 per hour.

Cowden pointed to one of the island’s biggest issues, a shortage of housing and the high cost of rental units, as the reason behind the high cost of living.

“If people get $20 an hour … That’s $3,200 a month. And you rent some place that’s simple. You’re still going to pay $1,500 for somebody’s garage,” she said. “People can’t afford it, and that’s pre-tax.”

In a message response to The Garden Island, County Council Member Addison Bulosan also called addressing housing issues on the island one of his main priorities.

“The top things we need to focus on are housing, health care, and transportation,” he said.

Bulosan also said the current $14 per hour minimum wage and plan to get to $18 per hour in 2028 “is still not enough.”

“We also have to lower the cost of living and reduce the inequities that harm our local communities,” he said.
Source: The Garden Island

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