State's Continuing Population Decline Raising More Concerns About Economic Impacts

Dec 30, 2019

Five percent of Hawaiʻi's population came from the mainland or abroad between 2013 and 2017 but the state continues to see a declining population overall.

A new report from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism highlights the migration of residents during a five-year period using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Between 2013 and 2017, nearly 70,000 people from outside of Hawaiʻi moved to the islands, roughly 54,000 from the U.S. mainland. The number does not include military personnel and their families. Another 15,000 people moved from foreign countries, mainly from Japan and the Philippines.

But over the same period, nearly 62,000 people moved from the state to the mainland -- or an average of roughly 13,000 people each year. State Chief Economist Eugene Tian said there are several factors contributing to the state's falling population numbers.

"One is because our birth rate [is] declining. It has been declining for the last 10 years," said Tian. "This is not a Hawaiʻi phenomenon, it's the same for the nation.

"Secondly, for Hawaiʻi especially, we have [a] net migration outflow -- more people going out than coming in."

According to the report, the largest migrant group were young adults and prime-working age population -- or between 18 and 34 years old. And a significant number of those moving out of the state were born on the mainland -- about two out of every three.

The report also found the likelihood of Hawaiʻi residents moving out of the state increased with education. Residents with a master's degree or higher education had a higher propensity to move away as opposed to those with a high school diploma or less.

For state officials, the population decline is alarming because of the economic impacts it will have on the state. DBEDT Director Mike McCartney said the migration of people in and out of the state affects the labor force, business development and government services.

"It is important to understand that migration has become an important component of the economic data that is used for planning, and it will continue to be essential going forward," McCartney said. "Hawaiʻi's future population growth will mainly depend on migration since our natural growth (birth-death) in population decreased 49% in the past eight years."

Tian says the report does not cover why people move to or from the state. But he adds Hawaiʻi's high cost of living and an improved mainland economy are some drivers.

You can read the full report below.