Danny De Gracia: Let The People Get Paid To Stay Home. It's Good For Us - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Last week, Gov. David Ige announced that he would be reinstating the job search requirement for persons who are currently on regular unemployment, adding that “Today, the public health measures we implemented and the success of our vaccine program have paved the way for us to reenergize our economy. As tourism has picked up, more employers are looking for workers to fill positions.”

Hawaii is a state with sharp disparities between haves and have-nots, and one of the biggest complaints among the haves since the pandemic began has been that the government should never pay people to stay home.

Or should we?

Despite touting the success of the COVID-19 vaccine program, Ige has slow-walked lifting mask mandates for vaccinated persons despite new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On one hand, the governor has been hesitant to let persons who have been fully vaccinated take off their masks in public, let alone engage in old normal activities, because the state feels enforcement is a problem and our keiki are still at risk. We are told that until 70% or 80% of the population is vaccinated in the islands, “simple” rules where everyone falls under the same risk-averse restrictions is the way Ige will go.

But on the other hand, the governor has been extremely lenient in approving Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s goalpost moving on the tier system which seemed less about public health and more about economic concessions.

Approaching The Post-Pandemic

Remember the dark ages of COVID-19 last year when people were spreading misinformation that “jobs lost in the pandemic will be lost forever” and I dismissed that as nonsense, mentioning that pandemics historically end with a large demand for labor? You’re welcome, because that’s precisely the situation the country is in now with regards to service industry jobs.

We know that Hawaii runs on tourism, and service workers are critical to the success of tourism, but let us never forget that tourism is the very reason that COVID-19 came to Hawaii in the first place. If you’re a bartender, server, hotel or similar worker, your experience in Hawaii is to be worked to the point of chronic injury and poorly compensated, while the taxpayer-subsidized tourism industry rakes in billions per year.

Like John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” where all the pearl buyers appear to be in competition yet are all controlled by the same owner to defraud poor locals into providing valuable resources for minimal compensation, Hawaii thrives on working people to death to make the offshore corporations happy and to give the state its cut in cash to pay for wasteful government.

Hawaii should shift to a digital economy that includes relaxed restrictions on cryptocurrency, where locals can engage in profitable e-commerce across the globe. Flickr: Mike McCune

And now, the announcement that persons on unemployment will be required to prove that they are looking for work makes it seem like the government is taking a mercenary approach where people need to get back into the hotels and restaurants because the only thing that matters is tourism.

If things are so tenuous that we still need to be wearing masks in defiance of CDC recommendations, then why are we pushing people back into dangerous, low-paying jobs?

It should be no surprise that while tourists are again visiting Hawaii in droves, locals don’t want to get back into the dead-end jobs that put them at risk, pay them so little, and force them to deal with people or situations that are toxic and emotionally draining. And so long as Ige says it’s not safe to take off the mask, we shouldn’t be forcing people to go back to work in-person.

Let the people who want to work apply for work, and let the people who want to stay home, stay home – and let’s pay for them too.

The token unemployment benefits we pay are nothing compared to the subsidies we give to corporations or the grants that partner nonprofits receive to do the bidding of the state.

It’s okay, apparently, to receive billions of dollars from the federal government, take forever to spend them, mismanage their use, but when it comes to giving people a few dollars for unemployment, we want to put them through a cheese grater to prove they’re not freeloading.

It was never the intention of Congress to generously give Hawaii government billions of relief dollars just to be stingy with the people. We should be paying people to stay home. Not only is that less individuals who will get infected while we wait for the 70% vaccination rate, but it is a much-needed form of stimulus that poor people should be getting anyway here in Hawaii.

It is precisely because Hawaii depends on service jobs that we were so distressed by COVID-19 in the first place, because these kinds of workers can’t remote telework and are forced to put themselves at risk to get minimal pay. Do we really want to rebuild Hawaii like this?

We need a Hawaii with fewer service jobs, where people can be part of a digital economy that includes relaxed restrictions on cryptocurrency, where locals can engage in profitable e-commerce across the globe, and where our homes become our new offices.

Until then? We need less people on the road wearing down the infrastructure or polluting the environment. We need less people clogging up corporate human resources reviews of applications because people are applying just to comply with UI job search requirements. Let the people who want to work apply for work, and let the people who want to stay home, stay home – and let’s pay for them too.


Read this next:

Rebuilding In Puna Ma Kai Is Folly


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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Latest Comments (0)

Somehow in making a point about turning away from a tourist economy, an alternative economy was never proposed.  You cannot sit around under a coconut tree or on the beach all day and expect to eat.  You have to climb the tree to harvest coconuts, or throw net and catch some fish.  Then you can eat.  We have talked for decades about why we import 80-90% of our food.  The solution is simple.  Stop blaming others and worrying about who has what.  Return to the land, huli ka lima i lalo, so you can feed yourself and others.  If we caretake the land together, we can have abundance together.  `Aina momona.

newshoundess · 2 weeks ago

Danny, when you say "we" should be paying people to stay home, who do you consider "we?"  The state unemployment fund is completely funded by businesses that pay into the fund through payroll.  Normally, there is never a Federal subsidy as in this past year.  Businesses bare the full brunt of this tax, employees, when laid off, have a safety net until employed again.  Since Ige proclamated his way into closing tourism and most private businesses last year, that fund was exhausted beyond reach of private enterprise.  The legislature graciously allocated $650M to help replenish the fund, with Sylvia Luke admitting it was the states fault for forcing businesses to close, lay off employees and exposing the state unemployment fund for money it did not have.  That liability lies with the state, however, despite promises to not raise unemployment rates for those very businesses, the state instituted schedule H, which increased rates an average of 8% in unemployment taxes.  Who is the "we" that is supposed to fund further unemployment if people don't return to work?  And why should it be the private sector, particularly when state employees lost nothing in wages?

wailani1961 · 2 weeks ago

Agreed! I also believe that the ones getting called back to work  should get a boost.  I was afraid  to go back to work with 75% of my pay being commission- Luckily it has been busy enough but my stress load is insane given the glut of people coming in that can't get cars, can't get taxi's, can't get dining, and now almost all activities are booked through end  of June. I'm back on the hamster wheel, overly busy, barely see my family etc. I will  always cherish my Covid  year off.  It was good for my children and all the island keiki to see their parents around and it was good for my stress level.  Time to rethink our jobs!

KauaiBest11 · 2 weeks ago

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