Throw ethical arguments out the window and consider the minimum wage “Fight for $15” from a business perspective — we should sell goods and services at a price above what they cost to produce.

Imagine a rental company that spends $30,000 a year in upkeep on its products. Now, imagine this company rents their products out for only $21,000. The company loses $9,000 annually because of this. There is not a company in the world that would operate with margins like this, yet Hawaii is following exactly this business model with its residents.

The current cost of living in Hawaii is $30,000 for one adult, but we only make corporations pay $21,000 for a full-time minimum wage worker. This results in a $9,000 “survival gap,” a margin our state should not accept.

State Capitol Building with Hibiscus in foreground.
A bill raising Hawaii’s minimum wage has yet to be heard at the Capitol this session. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This gap does not simply go away because someone makes a low wage. The $9,000 difference is inevitably paid by Hawaii’s residents through social programs and unmet basic needs.

Having our workers available at a discount is a losing business strategy for the state and our residents, costing us billions each year. Senate Bill 2291, which would increase the minimum wage to $12.25 per hour in 2019 and $15 per hour in 2020, offers the ability to correct this mistake by making corporations pay the true cost of the workforce that they get.

Legal Worker Exploitation

More than 40 percent of all jobs in Hawaii pay below a living wage. This widespread legal exploitation of our workers means we all have to sacrifice to help low-wage earners make ends meet and be able to show up to work every day; whether it’s the state using taxpayer money to pay for health care for a young family; children unable to spend time with their mom because she is working two jobs; or an aunty selflessly offering up her couch for a single dad to sleep on.

We shouldn’t need to sacrifice to help full-time workers though. They should be paid enough to help themselves.

More than 40 percent of all jobs in Hawaii pay below a living wage.

Hawaii has reached historically low unemployment levels following the latest minimum wage hikes. An increase to $15 would strengthen our labor market even further, guaranteeing all full-time workers will earn at least $30,000. This will take the burden of helping workers survive away from the taxpayers and the state, and put it fairly back on the corporations that profit off the labor.

Fortunately, dozens of state legislators have recognized this reality and signaled their support for SB 2291. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party’s leaders and committee chairs determine the fate of these bills as they are the gatekeepers to the democratic process. This means it’s important for Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz ( or 808-586-6090) to know that the people want this bill to pass.

He needs to schedule it to be heard by the March 2 deadline or it will die without even getting a vote. After that, Senate President Ron Kouchi and Rep. Sylvia Luke and House Speaker Saiki will need to push for this bill to become law.

The minimum wage has not effectively adjusted to match our highest-in-the nation cost of living, leaving nearly half of our households unable to meet their basic needs. We need to treat our working families better. We need to run our state business better.

Thoughts on this or any other story? We’re replacing comments with a new letters column. Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and include a contact phone for verification purposes.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author