It’s been a rough decade for the American economy, but Hawaii has escaped comparatively unscathed.

The islands experienced a smaller dip in real income between 1999 and 2009 than the nation at large and the percent of citizens living in poverty dropped in Hawaii even as it grew on the mainland, according to American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this month.

The survey found that the national median household income rose to $51,425 from $41,994 in the 2000 Census. But after adjusting for inflation, the “real income” or “purchasing power” of Americans has dipped 4.9 percent in the past 10 years. The latest data comes from surveys taken between 2005 and 2009.

In Hawaii, real income dropped by 2.3 percent in the same time, though the Big Island and Kauai saw strong increases.1

“If you look at pockets of the islands, things are much worse,” said Carl Bonham, director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. “They’re as bad as they are in much of the country. But the takeaway is, ‘Yeah, we didn’t have as bad of a downturn.'”

Real Median Household Income Changes, 1999-2009

Geography 2009 Income 1999 Income Percent change
(adjusted for inflation)
United States $51,425 $41,994 -4.9%
Northeast Region $57,208 $45,481 -2.3%
West Region $56,171 $45,084 -3.2%
South Region $47,204 $38,790 -5.5%
Midwest Region $49,932 $42,414 -8.5%
State of Hawaii $64,661 $49,820 -2.3%
Kauai County $63,317 $45,020 +5.9%
Hawaii County $55,645 $39,805 +5.3%
Honolulu County $67,066 $51,914 -2.7%
Maui County $63,659 $49,489 -3.1%

Source: Civil Beat analysis of 2009 American Community Survey and 2000 Census data

Hawaii also outperformed the nation in another economic metric — the percentage of citizens living below the poverty level.2

Poverty Rate Changes, 1999-2009

Geography 2009 Pct Below
Poverty Level
1999 Pct Below
Poverty Level
Percent Change
United States 13.5% 12.4% +8.8%
West Region 13.0% 13.0% -0.3%
Northeast Region 11.6% 11.4% +2.3%
South Region 15.1% 13.9% +8.5%
Midwest Region 12.8% 10.2% +25.7%
State of Hawaii 9.4% 10.7% -12.0%
Maui County 7.9% 10.5% -24.8%
Hawaii County 13.5% 15.7% -13.6%
Honolulu County 8.9% 9.9% -10.4%
Kauai County 9.5% 10.5% -9.8%

Source: Civil Beat analysis of 2009 American Community Survey and 2000 Census data

The American Community Survey data contrasts with a report [pdf] titled “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States” that was released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September. That report showed changes in Hawaii’s poverty rate and median income between 2007 and 2009 were the worst in the nation, Civil Beat found.

Data [xls] used in the September report shows Hawaii’s 2009 median household income at $55,649. The American Community Survey has that figure at $64,661.

A Census spokesman on Thursday explained that the 2010 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement that was the source for the September report uses a different sample from the 2009 American Community Survey. He said that the Current Population Survey would be a better source for national and statewide statistics, while the American Community Survey is able to delve into smaller geographic areas.

That’s because after five years of asking questions, the government has enough raw data to compile figures for not only states and counties but smaller geographies like Census Designated Places — 131 towns across the state.3

Analysis of those numbers tells the story of which areas have been hardest hit by the recession and which have prospered. (Civil Beat will visit the Honolulu communities that experienced the most dramatic changes in coming days.)

Hawaii Towns — Largest Income Gains and Losses

Rank Geography 2009 Income 1999 Income Percent change
(adjusted for inflation)
1 Laupahoehoe $73,750 $29,250 +89.9%
2 Hanalei $72,917 $34,375 +59.7%
3 Eden Roc $32,794 $15,658 +57.7%
4 Kapalua $118,125 $57,292 +55.3%
5 Poipu $103,654 $51,442 +51.7%
6 Hauula $70,375 $38,190 +38.8%
126 Waimanalo $50,000 $47,594 -20.9%
127 Kapaau $45,682 $45,764 -24.8%
128 Kalaheo $56,213 $57,813 -26.8%
129 Pepeekeo $26,031 $27,946 -29.9%
130 Nanawale Estates $32,303 $35,703 -31.9%
131 Princeville $52,700 $63,833 -37.8%

Source: Civil Beat analysis of 2009 American Community Survey and 2000 Census dataFull Table

Hawaii Towns — Largest Poverty Rate Losses and Gains

Rank Geography 2009 Pct Below
Poverty Level
1999 Pct Below
Poverty Level
Percent Change
1 Hanalei 0.5% 25.3% -97.9%
2 Waikane 1.1% 11.6% -90.6%
3 Kaaawa 1.7% 11.8% -85.8%
4 Laupahoehoe 4.1% 25.2% -83.5%
5 Omao 2.0% 10.0% -80.3%
6 Pakala Village 8.7% 43.8% -80.0%
126 Waikapu 5.4% 1.9% +183.1%
127 Paia 27.1% 8.9% +206.5%
128 Maunaloa 68.5% 22.3% +207.4%
129 Iroquois Point 5.6% 1.8% +220.1%
130 Heeia 2.2% 0.5% +351.1%
131 Barbers Point Housing 14.5% 0.0% (Cannot Divide By Zero)

Source: Civil Beat analysis of 2009 American Community Survey and 2000 Census dataFull Table

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