Caregiving Could Help Explain Why Hawaii's Women Earn Less Than Men

Jan 9, 2020

Hawaii women are earning about $8,752 less per year than men, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2018, women in the state working full time received 82.6% of what men made in median weekly earnings. This ranked Hawaii 16th in the nation for women's earnings as a percentage of men's.

Hawaii also ranked 20th in the nation for women's weekly pay.

These numbers are up from last year but, prior to 2017, they had been steadily decreasing the previous three years.

The numbers don't take into account the states' cost of living, and Hawaii has among the highest in the nation, a fact that impacts women, said Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

One costly expense for many women and their families: childcare.

“We don’t talk about the cost of having children,” Jabola-Carolus said. “Childcare is not accessible. It’s not accessible numerically . . . There’s just not enough spots to accommodate those children. And then, secondly, if you do get a spot, I remember when I first had a child, I was shocked by the price tag.”

A 2017 study by the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family found the demand for childcare in the state greatly exceeded the supply. Although 64% of children need care because their parents work, Department of Human Service-regulated childcare providers can only take in 25% of that group.

As an example of the expense involved, the report said childcare for an infant under one year of age cost $13,000 a year. 

Maternity leave can also affect a woman's earnings, Jabola-Carolus said. While federal law requires most employers to allow workers 12 weeks of maternity leave, it’s unpaid. State law requires employers with more than 100 workers to provide four weeks of leave, also unpaid.

Nine states, including California and Washington, have provisions in place for paid family leave but not Hawaii.

If women don't have paid maternity leave, they have no choice but to drop out of the workforce or stay in jobs that may be flexible but lower-paying, Jabola-Carolus said.

She said enacting policies that just focus on paying women more would not solve the gender pay gap. She would like to see universal paid family leave for a child's first year for both parents. She said that would give men an incentive to take on caregiving responsibilities.

“There is a push to place the burden entirely on workers, and I think there’s a lack of urgency about this because it is usually sidelined as a women’s issue,” she said. “Caregiving needs to be our political focus and not just dismissed as a secondary issue.”

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii has previously opposed paid family leave because it says it impacts the business community’s ability to create and sustain jobs.

The issue may be taken up again this year by the state Legislatire. Lawmakers directed the Legislative Reference Bureau in 2018 to analyze the impacts of a paid family leave program on industry, consumers, employees, employers and caregivers.

In a report issued in November, the bureau laid out several models for paid family leave that it said would require policy decisions by lawmakers in areas that include a plan's structure and funding.