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Realizing the Importance of Economic Well-Being

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

A recent survey of households in Hawaii indicates a shift in what concerns families in our community today.
Surveyors found that concern about the well-being of the economy has elbowed out concerns about the education system as the number one concern of people in the 50th State. It seems that residents are beginning to make the connection between how the economy is doing to their own situation. This shift in concern should not come as any surprise. While the economists continue to tell us that according to the numbers the state’s economy is improving, many families and businesses seem to be saying otherwise.
Families tell of how they have less to spend because their hours at work have been cut and businesses tell of many shoppers but fewer buyers. Among the few industries where there is growth and full employment is the construction industry which had its share of subsidies from state government in the form of tax credits for residential renovation and construction as well as for hotel renovation and construction. Between the tax credits and the onslaught of dot-com millionaires who have snapped up pricey resort parcels on all the Neighbor Islands, the construction industry is the exception to the rule.
However, for the rest of the workers in the Hawaii marketplace, the outlook has been bleak as employers cut hours and in many cases utilize part-time help as a way to trim employee benefit costs. Perhaps the hardest hit is the visitor industry and those retailers who cater to the visitor market. Reducing or eliminating routes that don’t make money is often a first step of action for airlines struggling to stay in business.
What is ironic is that for nearly a decade the community focused its concerns on the quality of education in Hawaii. Even Hawaii’s business leaders made improving education its top priority. The business community spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to study the issue of education while seemingly ignoring the plight of the economy. So, as one observer opined, while Hawaii’s business community strove to train children well, they trained them so well that they went away to school and took jobs over there because there were no jobs to be had in the state for which those kids were trained.
Instead of paying attention to the economic well-being, holding state and local governments to the fire to improve the business climate in Hawaii, the community focused solely on education as the key to Hawaii’s future. Perhaps as another observer noted, Hawaii’s too much of a small town where no one wants to rock the boat. So businesses which are dependent on benevolent whims of governmental officials fear rocking the boat in raising questions about Hawaii’s business climate because it may jeopardize that zoning change or permit they need. As a result nothing changes and, in fact, it gets worse.
Well, now there is no question, the people of Hawaii, the voters, have named the economy as their number one concern. They want something done about improving the outlook for the economy and prospects for economic vibrancy, more jobs and greater hopes for the future.
And hopefully, lawmakers and administration officials will put their noses to the grindstone to figure out what needs to be done, for the impact of a poor economy does not stop at the fact that people are out of work. A poor economy is one of the underlying reasons for the growth in social problems and the problem that elected officials now want to be seen as addressing is the ice problem.
Let’s face it, if there were jobs to be had that paid enough to make a decent living in Hawaii, that gave hope that families would be able to survive, would there be as many trying to escape the hopelessness of having no job, no income, no place to sleep? Not having a job, not being able to support your family or for that matter having to work two or three jobs all contribute to tensions in the family. The result can be domestic violence, child abuse and neglect or truancy when parents cannot be home to be with their children.
When the only escape from the reality of this world is being lulled into a drug induced fantasy, the problem only compounds. While an improvement in the economy is certainly not the panacea to all of our community’s problems, one has to stop and consider the impact a poor economy has on the social problems the community faces. Just as much as educators tell us that a child cannot learn on a stomach that continues to growl, we should recognize that until there is a chicken in every pot, the social problems will continue to grow.

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