Editor’s Note: Zuri Aki is a candidate for state House District 36.

Hawaii is the state with the highest cost of living in the nation. Juxtaposing some of our costs against national averages, our housing is roughly 130 percent more expensive; our electric rates are roughly 65 percent more expensive; our groceries are roughly 55 percent more expensive; and our transportation is roughly 34 percent more expensive.

This incredibly high cost of living has everything to do with the State of Hawaii being ranked “most likely” to live paycheck to paycheck with nearly half of its residents doing so. It has everything to do with the state’s housing, homeless, and brain drain crises.

You’re disadvantaged, Hawaii, and your disadvantage is making it incredibly difficult for you to compete against global market forces — you know — all those non-Hawaii residents that are able to buy up real estate and maybe even turn them into illegal transient vacation rentals (or an out of touch residential development) because they didn’t have to spend a lifetime (or even multiple generations) saddled with the highest cost burden in the nation.

Roosevelt Bridge near Mililani.
Ongoing rehabilitation of the Kipapa Stream (Roosevelt) Bridge on Kamehameha Highway is one thing causing traffic delays in Mililani. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Hawaii residents suffer great economic disparity, but as much as I would love to put up solutions and call for the state to challenge the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution in order to gain an exception so that we can better control global market impact for the betterment of our residents, I must save that for another time. This time — and time is a critical factor here — I’d like to talk about the economic disparities suffered disproportionately by communities within the State of Hawaii in order to bring light to this plight, so that positive change might occur.

While all of Hawaii carries the burden of high costs, the weight of that burden isn’t distributed evenly. The disproportionate distribution of this weight — this cost — results in both social and economic disparity, clearly privileging some communities over others that are left to fend for themselves in downward spirals that just might be evidenced in higher rates of brain drain, poverty, or homelessness.

I live in Mililani, a community that I strongly believe is bearing the burden of extra costs that in some ways negatively and disparately impact families. We have less time. Less time means less money and opportunity lost — clear social and economic impacts. Communities along the Waianae Coast, Waialua (North Shore), and Northern Koolauloa have even less time than we do. Our neighbor islands have even less opportunity.

You see, a great many Mililani residents commute to Honolulu for work. A resident that has been doing this work-commute for 20 years has spent over one year of their life seated in traffic and has probably spent at least $40,000 on gas. What could you do with one year of time and $40,000?

Most of the economic costs of our daily work-commutes are calculable, but those connected to social costs and opportunity-lost are harder to identify. I’m sure the more entrepreneurial of us could have turned that one year of time into money, if they weren’t confined to their vehicles droning along in a seemingly endless stop and go, stop and go.

How about health costs? I know that some of my co-workers, who live in Honolulu, go to the gym during the time I’m actually sitting in traffic. I don’t really have time to work out. Some of my co-workers also love to cook, a luxury for me that is either hit or miss depending on how run-down I feel by the time I get home around 6 p.m. When it’s a miss, and it often is, you go out to eat, which accrues even more of a financial burden: I could save about $5,500 each year by cooking at home. Sometimes, on those miss days, when you lack time and money, you go fast food, and that’s a mountain of additional health costs that I really don’t want to think about right now.

For me, the greatest cost is time lost with loved ones. Without having to endure a morning and evening commute, I’d have at least two more hours each day to spend with my children. When every second matters, hours may as well be eons.

Choice. Most of us don’t have that luxury. We live in a state where a full-time worker must earn around $36 per hour (roughly $73,217 per year) in order to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at fair market rent.

It’s the same state where 81 percent of very low income residents (individuals making between $22,000 and $36,650 annually) are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs — that’s a cost-burden for 69 percent of low income residents and 28 percent of middle income residents. Truly “affordable housing” means you’re spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing costs. We lack choice.

I’m not saying to pity us people who reside in Mililani. I’m simply saying that traffic is a major problem and it has negative consequences that result in social and economic disparity as it often correlates with the loss of time and opportunity. We need more time and we need more opportunities.

If work was right here in Central Oahu, commuting would be a non-issue, and we would have time. Time to spend with our families. Time to learn something new. Time to make more money so this incredibly high cost of living isn’t as burdensome.

Alternatively, alleviating traffic congestion and reducing the commuting time would also give us more time — and there’s a lesson to be learned here on sustainable planning and how communities are developed. This goes for every community negatively impacted by traffic congestion in Hawaii.

As campaign season ramps up before the Aug. 11 primary election, I hope candidates take the time, to think a whole lot about time.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Every campaign season we get tons of emails and commentary from people supporting or opposing particular candidates. Campaign Corner is a forum for healthy — and civil — discussion of candidates and their issues. Endorsements and criticisms are part of a voter’s decision-making process. Here are the ground rules: The column must be written by an identifiable person and accompanied by a current head shot and brief bio. The commentary must be original and not published elsewhere. No campaign email blasts. No letter-writing campaigns. Send columns and questions to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Campaign Corner are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author