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The Conversation

Minimum wage has stayed at $10.10 for 4 years. With high inflation, will lawmakers make any changes?

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Consumer inflation is at its highest level in nearly four decades but Hawaiʻi’s minimum wage hasn’t moved in four years.

In 2014, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature approved gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over several years.

As the legislature gears up to come back into session next month, the minimum wage will likely be a topic of discussion — and proposed legislation.

The latest state data show a single adult would need to make about $17 to $18 an hour at a full-time job to afford to live in Hawaiʻi — that's about $35,000 a year. For Oʻahu, that number increases slightly to $36,300.

Some business advocacy groups say a minimum wage increase would negatively impact small businesses.

Nate Hix is a former public school teacher in Hawaiʻi who lives in Palolo and founded “Living Wage Hawaii,” an advocacy group focused on raising the minimum wage to what it considers a “livable standard.”

"The reality is, in states across the nation who have encouraged or have resulted in minimum wage increases, it's not a death blow, right? The economy keeps chugging along, businesses adapt as they do to any scenario, right. Businesses have adapted to COVID, which has been a monstrous hit. Minimum wage increases are pennies compared to that," Hix told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Hix says even with the increase from 2014 to 2018, the economy grew — and wages increased for all earning levels.

"The number of businesses grew in Hawaiʻi as well. So if you just look at the data, the minimum wage is good for everybody," he said. "We're in support of (small businesses), right, this isn't an attack on them in the least this is, again, trying to help everybody."

Those in opposition have said the labor shortage is already pushing up wages.

"The idea that we're asking, to push the minimum wage up, would help sort of level the playing field for everybody so that they don't have to be jumping through these hoops to try to attract good workers," Hix said. "They're leery to raise the wage because they're afraid of what it's going to potentially do to their bottom line if somebody else can pay $10.10. But if everybody's paying $12, or $13, or $15, or whatever the case might be, well, then, you know, everything should be good to go."

Hix said he's hopeful the legislature will be in agreement that the minimum wage needs to be increased.

"Fast-food workers, restaurant workers, grocery store workers. These are the people making a minimum wage at the low end of the spectrum, and we were absolutely dependent upon them during the pandemic. And so the idea that they should somehow not be able to put food on their own table, I think is no longer kind of something that we should consider," he said. "These people are absolutely necessary to our economy, these are our neighbors, these are our friends. And they should be paid fairly, regardless of the job that they're in."

This interview aired on The Conversation on Dec. 15, 2021. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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