Editor’s Note: This is the second of two Fact Checks on a White House statement about first lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Waianae next week during APEC. The other Fact Check examines its claim that the Waianae area is the largest Native Hawaiian community in the world.

How bad are these tough economic times on the Waianae Coast?

A White House press release said it is “one of the most economically challenged communities in the state.”1

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an excellent source of economic data. The ACS is a survey of a section of the population rather than a detailed count of every resident. So the data is extrapolated, and there’s a margin of error, unlike with the decennial Census.

The 2010 ACS recently released three-year estimates, but those only cover geographies with populations larger than 20,000. Many of Hawaii’s towns don’t have 20,000 residents, including Waianae. The most recent economic data comparing towns across Hawaii is found in the 2009 American Community Survey’s five-year estimates.

Percent of residents in poverty and median household income are two good measures of the economic challenges a community faces.

By both metrics, using the ACS, the five towns along the Waianae Coast are below average for Hawaii.

Percent In Poverty

Town Percent Below Poverty Level Rank
Maunaloa 68.5% 1
Eden Roc 39.3% 2
Makaha Valley 32.8% 3
Pepeekeo 32.3% 4
Fern Forest 29.8% 5
Naalehu 28.9% 6
Hawaiian Beaches 28.8% 7
Paia 27.1% 8
Pahala 26.4% 9
Makaha 26.1% 10
Leilani Estates 25.6% 11
Orchidlands Estates 24.1% 12
Fern Acres 23.8% 13
Hawaiian Paradise Park 23.3% 14
Mountain View 23.0% 15
Nanawale Estates 22.4% 16
Maili 22.1% 17
Paauilo 21.5% 18
Kualapuu 18.8% 19
Princeville 18.4% 20
Ainaloa 18.1% 21
Nanakuli 18.0% 22
Kapaa 17.7% 23
Hawaiian Ocean View 17.1% 24
Anahola 16.7% 25
Kaunakakai 16.7% 26
Hawaiian Acres 16.4% 27
Waianae 15.7% 28

Source: Civil Beat analysis of U.S. Census data

In terms of poverty rate, all five Waianae coast towns are in the bottom quarter in the state, led by Makaha Valley, which ranks third-worst of the 131 towns covered by the 2009 ACS.

Median Household Income

Town Median Household Income Rank
Heeia $120,444 1
Kapalua $118,125 2
Maunawili $112,542 3
Waianae $60,250 73
Papaikou $59,427 74
Kapaa $59,399 75
Maili $59,091 76
Nanakuli $48,444 107
Makaha $39,068 120
Pakala Village $38,750 121
Makaha Valley $38,583 122
Fern Forest $31,894 129
Maunaloa $27,888 130
Pepeekeo $26,031 131

Source: Civil Beat analysis of U.S. Census data

For median household income, both Makaha and Makaha Valley are in the bottom dozen in the state, though Waianae itself is actually in the middle of the pack.

Let’s look at the entire Waianae community, including the rural areas around the towns.

Median Household Income

County Division Median Household Income Rank
Spreckelsville $122,159 1
Koolaupoko $83,157 2
Waihee-Waikapu $79,659 3
Kekaha-Waimea $57,437 28
Waianae $55,741 29
Kahului $55,465 30
Kau $41,911 40
Keaau-Mountain View $40,567 41
Pahoa-Kalapana $36,914 42

Source: Civil Beat analysis of U.S. Census data

In the the 2009 ACS, Waianae ranked 29th out of 42 Census County Divisions2 that had median household income data.

Percent In Poverty

County Division Percent Below Poverty Level Rank
Pahoa-Kalapana 26.4% 1
Kau 25.4% 2
West Molokai 21.7% 3
Keaau-Mountain View 20.3% 4
Waianae 18.8% 5
Kapaa 17.1% 6
Papaikou-Wailea 16.8% 7
Hilo 15.2% 8
East Molokai 15.1% 9
South Kona 12.7% 10

Source: Civil Beat analysis of U.S. Census data

Waianae had the fifth-highest poverty rate of the 42 Census County Divisions.

Bottom Line: The White House is correct: The Waianae Coast is among the most economically disadvantaged communities in the state.


Reporter-host Chad Blair contributed to this report.

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