Neal Milner: Here's Why You Should Consider Leaving Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

There are at least seven reasons why folks, especially young adults and families with young children, should move away from Hawaii.

I say move, not because I’ve become disillusioned or because I have pandemic fatigue.

It is because that is the most realistic strategy to choose.

So, here are the seven reasons.

First, over the past few years more and more people have left Hawaii. Outmigration has become greater than in-migration.

That alone may not be reason enough to leave, but it should remind you that a lot of people are onto something.

Recent projections are that outmigration from Hawaii is going to increase significantly.

Up to now, these movers tended to be better educated, presumably with more marketable skills.

A recent University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization study projects that because of the severe decline in tourism there will be a lot more less marketable people leaving.

Relocating to the mainland has many advantages including economic and emotional. Civil Beat

Second, things here are going to get worse even if they get better in the long run. For families it is the short run that’s important.

So, yeah, the state has plans for more affordable housing. It is trying to develop ways of making Hawaii’s economy more diversified.

Ho hum.

All that is important and absolutely necessary, but it is in the long run. Long run is for policy people, planners, reformers, politicians, people of good will with big horizons.

Fine, but meanwhile if you are, say, in your early 30s with a couple of kids and living with grandma and grandpa, your horizons are this: if my kids are in elementary school now, is there any chance things will be appreciably better for me and for them before they start intermediate school?

Third, the pandemic makes these problems more imminent and serious.

Well, of course it does. But you need to be reminded about how much more serious the housing and economic problems are and will become.

More people here are giving up their rentals because they can’t afford them and moving in with someone else. So, if that couple with two kids had to give up their rented apartment to move into her parents’ house, that is not necessarily the power of ohana.

It is the problematic power of forced ohana, which can turn into a very different dynamic. As family oriented as this place is and as hard as family members work to help one another, this kind of move from more to less space is a big-time potential disrupter and stressor.

Families gather under tents at Waikiki Beach. Aug, 6 - Following a continued surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Mayor Caldwell’s Emergency Order 2020-23 includes the closure of City parks, most park facilities, all campgrounds, Botanical Gardens, and Community Gardens from Saturday, August 8 through Friday, September 4, 2020.
Waikiki Beach is a great gathering spot for families. Many families are moving in together as jobs and money run short during Hawaii’s economic downturn. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Fourth, when you come right down to it, this is not the state’s problem. It is your own problem, needing your own solution.

Making this a better place is a worthy goal, and for many that is enough to keep them here. It’s not too much to say that those who do are heroes willing to stay and struggle.

But at its root, the decision to stay or to leave, to fight or to flee is a decision about individuals and their families: what’s good for them.

“Brain drain” is a term that is both totally resonating and totally weird. We wring our hands over “the brain drain” as too many of our best and brightest leave Hawaii. But that is a state perspective — what’s good for the state? Again, fair enough.  That’s what policymakers should be asking.

But it is not a perspective relevant to individuals’ or families’ decisions right here and right now.

The state’s drain may be your own gain.

Fifth, being settled can in fact make you less secure and at the same time limit your ability to do anything about it.

Hawaii is my home forever, you say. Well, maybe, but you need to be aware of the possible bad consequences from feeling this way.

The social scientist Richard Florida has shown that “stuck” people — those unwilling to leave their home — often live in areas that are suffering economically, with few opportunities for good jobs.

These people stay put even as their attachments to the institutions around them — church, union, family — crumble. They suffer psychologically. Their health suffers. Drug addiction goes up.

Now, Hawaii is not northeast Pennsylvania and the Kalihi Valley differs from a working-class neighborhood in Detroit, but the pandemic here certainly creates some of the same stress with the same potential for trapping people in their own despair.

And here are some broader, less depressing reasons to consider moving.

Sixth, moving is hard, but it can be good for the soul. It’s a challenge, an adventure, a chance for new experiences. It is easy to see the downside — missing your old friends, storing your surfboard in your parents’ carport, the best damn weather anywhere.

The upside takes work, but the rewards can be surprising and powerful, like discovering new ways about how you are different from and the same as others.

Hawaii may feel like that final place to you but remember that all of us living here come from one of two groups of adventurers.

Most of you are either the descendants of immigrants who took some pretty big risks and faced huge challenges to settle in Hawaii.

Or you are descended from Hawaiians who sailed hundreds of miles through unfamiliar waters to settle on totally unfamiliar islands. And thrived.

Or, less dramatically but more recently, grandparents who were born and raised in Hawaii who uproot themselves to somewhere on the continent so that you can live near children and grandchildren who obviously have already made the move away from Hawaii.

Seventh, there are all kinds of familiar communities out there for you. They are called Hawaii’s diaspora, which is large, thriving, and typically works hard to adjust to new homes while maintaining a love and attachment to Hawaii.

Sure, that’s not the same. But neither is Hawaii today the same for parents with young children as it was when those parents were young children themselves.

Hawaii is an easy place to love and a hard place to leave. That’s what makes living here a blessing. But it’s a mixed blessing, and that mix is changing.

Whether you decide to stay or to leave, you owe it to yourself to consider all the pieces before you make up your mind.

It helps to remember that home is a state of mind — a product of imagination — and not just a place. Hawaii can still be home even if you leave.

Read this next:

4 Reasons You Must Vote -- And Soon

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About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

After reading this article, I realized why many people chose to move to the mainland. Hawai'i is expensive, and by moving out of the island, it gives many families the opportunity to have a better lifestyle. In the mainland housing is cheaper, you get better pay, there's more things to do and experience, and there are way more job opportunities compared to Hawai'i. But like the author said, Hawai'i can still be considered home even when you move away. So if one day I do have to leave this island, I will always still consider Hawai'i my home.

CadieAlmarez · 2 years ago

People might leave Hawaii because they find better opportunities, cheaper commodities, and good living conditions in different countries. The government should focus more on providing affordable housing to the locals because this is one way that they can afford and survive to stay here. But for me this challenging time is not the right time to leave Hawaii, as the world is struggling, millions of people filing for unemployment and getting laid off. Businesses are closing, people are struggling to pay rent. It is still difficult to look for better opportunities if the economy is struggling. If I leave Hawaii, I will still look back at the beautiful tropical Island paradise, the people that always give a hand shaka and the spirit of aloha. Just like Mr. Neal Milner said, "Hawaii can still be home even if you leave."

Sandel82 · 2 years ago

After reading this article on the seven reasons on why you should consider to leave Hawaii, it leaves the reader(s) thinking what they should do, or might do. I like what the author states the reasons, and explains each more in detail. Like it talks about families, and young adult which influences on what they decide.

Sierra.Smith · 2 years ago

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