We hear a lot about Hawaii’s brain drain, and for good reason.

Many young locals head to the mainland to seek out better salaries, a lower cost of living and a fuller range of career opportunities. When they find what they are looking for, some decide to stay for good. Others find themselves wondering whether they will ever be able to come home.

Some possible brain-drain candidates will soon be receiving their diplomas, even as their parents fret about their children’s future in comments on Civil Beat’s series on the high cost of living.

So it is interesting to look at some broad comparative data on where our state’s economic motor, Honolulu, sits on a list of American cities when it comes to starting a career.

Pearl City High School graduation

Some young adults in Honolulu, like these students at Pearl City High, live in a city that is not considered to be an ideal place to start a career.

Courtesy Pearl City High School

The answer, according to WalletHub’s list of 2015’s Best and Worst Cities to Start a Career, is not very good. Of the 150 U.S. cities in the ranking, Honolulu placed 101st — behind Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which isn’t exactly famed as a bastion of opportunity.

A look at some of the 19 metrics that WalletHub used to rank cities with thriving or stagnant job markets quickly reveals why Honolulu’s does so poorly. When starter-salaries are placed in contrast to the cost of living, Hawaii’s capital ranks third from the bottom in the list of 150 cities. As for housing affordability — when prices and starter-incomes are factored together — Honolulu ranks dead last.

Overall, Honolulu would have slid down the list if some Hawaii-friendly secondary data elements weren’t factored in. These included the appeal of a city’s “social scenes,” the number of leisure and recreational establishments, and the unemployment rate which, in Honolulu, is just under 4 percent.

Given the improving employment climate nationally and surveys suggesting that employers plan to hire more fresh college graduates in the coming months, it will be interesting to see if young career-starters in Honolulu begin to enjoy more opportunities and better salaries.

If not, more of them may feel the pull of the mainland.

Do you have a story about the human impact of the cost of living in the islands, whether about you or someone you know? If so, click on the red button with the pencil and share it through Connections, or drop me a note at epape@civilbeat.com.

You can also continue the broader conversation and discuss practical and political solutions by joining Civil Beat’s Facebook group on the cost of living in Hawaii.


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