Chad Blair: Understanding Hawaii Through Its Data - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

It seems every couple of weeks there is a staff scramble to find our most recent copy of the Pacific Business News “Book of Lists” here in the Civil Beat offices in Kaimuki.

It’s an invaluable resource of relevant and revealing data about Hawaii — wealthiest ZIP Codes (96821, for Aina Haina-Niu Valley, is tops), largest hotels on Oahu (the Hilton Hawaiian Village is No. 1), most parking garage spaces downtown (check out Waterfront Plaza), even biggest breweries (Maui Brewing in Kihei).

It also can’t be found online, unless you are a PBN subscriber, in which case you get both online access and a hard copy.

I was thinking of the “Book of Lists” — which we located, by the way, in order to look up the biggest labor unions (Hawaii Government Employees Association has the largest membership) — just as the latest edition of the “State of Hawaii Data Book” was released Monday.

It is another invaluable resource, and it has the added benefit of being free and online.

Produced annually by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism for more than 50 years, the “Data Book” covers a “broad range of information,” as a press release correctly notes, in areas such as population, education, environment, economics, energy, real estate, construction, business, government, tourism and transportation. There are 24 sections in all.

The sourcing is varied and credible and includes the U.S. Census Bureau, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the U.S. Department of Defense and scores more. The 2020 edition of the “Data Book” even cites PBN’s ranking on labor unions (noted above) as well as the largest private employers (the biggest is The Queen’s Health Systems).

The “Data Book” helps us to understand Hawaii better, and where it is headed. I relied on it heavily for my dissertation in the 1990s, just as the internet was coming into general but limited public use.

I’ll let you peruse the “Data Book” at your leisure, but I will offer here some of my takeaways from the 850-plus data tables, which can be downloaded as PDF or Excel files.

Covid And Tourism

As DBEDT points out in its press release, Covid-19 devastated the local visitor industry last year.

Scheduled flights dropped from more than 61,000 to barely 24,000. The general excise tax base for hotel rentals — $2.6 billion — was more than halved from the previous year. And rental cars became scarce and very, very expensive (see table below).

2020 State Data Book table on most expensive rental car destinations

Duty-free revenue at Hawaii airports dropped by 25.6% percent to $78 million for the contract year ending May 31 — the first time it fell under $100 million since 1985. And hotel occupancy was down 37% while the revenue per available room was just $99, as compared to the RevPAR (as it’s called in the industry) of $229 in the previous year, pre-Covid.

Given its centrality to our economy, DBEDT tracks a lot of visitor data. One that caught my eye is a table titled “Areas Of Improvement for Visitor Satisfaction” from 2019.

One-fifth of all visitors to Oahu from the U.S. West and nearly one-fourth from the U.S. East said improvements to traffic would make their visit more enjoyable. And one-fourth of Japanese visitors to the Big Island would like to have more ground and public transit options.

Crime And Punishment

Hawaii has long suffered from a correctional system that is overcrowded and physically decaying. We even house hundreds of inmates at an Arizona facility.

So it caught me by surprise that, for fiscal year 2020, our total inmate population decreased by 18% — from 5,427 to 4,449 in FY 2020. That’s the lowest it has been since 1997, but no explanation is provided.

“This includes inmates physically present at one of the correctional facilities operated by the Department of Public Safety, housed in an out-of-state or contracted facility, on furlough, in a medical facility, on escape status or serving intermittent sentences,” according to DBEDT.

My educated guess is that the lower inmate numbers have to do with the fact that, beginning in March 2020 when Covid first hit Hawaii hard, more than 800 inmates were released to prevent the spread of the virus in jails and prisons. By May of that year, 47 had already been rearrested on various charges.

Internet crime complaints are up, by the way. There were 1,978 complaints in 2020 with victim losses estimated at $13.7 million. That’s almost 600 more complaints than were lodged in 2019 and nearly $3.7 million more in losses.

Personal Preferences

Not all of the data in the “Data Book” is current. DBEDT works to update information as it becomes available.

But even dated data have stories to tell. For example, we like to drink beer. Of the $714 million spent statewide on alcoholic beverages in fiscal year 2017, sales of beer exceeded sales of wine, followed by distilled spirits and sparkling wines.

2020 State Data Book table on major land owners in Hawaii

We are voting more, or at least intending to. In the 2020 general election, the number of registered voters (832,466) and numbers of votes cast (579,784) hit “all-time historic highs,” says DBEDT, with the percent of registered voters voting the highest it has been since 1994.

Last year, you will recall, was the first time Hawaii had mail-in balloting instituted statewide.

And in 2020 we liked to name baby boys Liam, Noah, Oliver, Elijah and Kai — in that order — and baby girls Olivia, Sophia, Isabella, Amelia and Luna. Ten years before that, Liam and Luna were not even in the top 10 but Dylan and Madison were.

Here’s one other sign of the times: Eugene Tian, the state economist, said via email that DBEDT stopped printing hard copies of the “State Data Book” for good in 2007.

But some books are apparently available on CD-ROM — whatever that is.

Read this next:

Danny De Gracia: Beef Up Health Care System Now Before It's Too Late

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

2020 Incarceration was down, due to, inmates being let out, No courts working, and hpd giving out citations instead of catching criminals.

kolohekids · 11 months ago

Excellent and interesting article. A review of the datasets available at the government's Hawaii Open Data site could also be useful and increase awareness of its availability. I for one could use an article that covers how to navigate the system, as well as the information available therein.

Lortz · 11 months ago

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