ANALYSIS: Wealth in Hawai`i, By the Numbers

September 24, 2013, 10:27 AM HST · Updated September 15, 12:15 AM
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Our third edition of “By the Numbers” takes a look at issues of wealth and poverty in Hawai`i, using numbers from the State of Hawai`i Data Book, in addition to other state and national-level data.

By Nate Gaddis

Rising Tides

Although island residents endure a very high cost of living, income levels in Hawai`i have been rising steadily since the 1970s. Not surprisingly, some islands have fared better than others.

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Personal income levels on Oahu are currently 7.3 times higher than they were 40 years ago, while Big Islanders have seen the lowest income growth, at 6.8 times their 1970s rates.

As for the highest income growth in the state, that happened on none other than Kauai, which now sees 8.1 times the level of income than it did in the ‘70s. Maui is a close second, having seen incomes rise by a multiple of 7.6 over the last 40 years.

Of course, rising income doesn’t necessarily translate into highest income. Oahu residents still out-earn their neighbors, with an average per-person income of $46,624. Kauai residents come in at a distant second, at $36,520. Mauians are a close third, at $36,272, while Big Islanders are by far the lowest earners in the state, at an average per-person income of $31,749.

But if you’ve ever planned a move to Oahu based on the assumption that people there will always earn more, you may want to think again.

If the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s predictions are any indication, the place to be over the next 30 years is in fact the Big Island, where total personal income growth is expected to soar 100%.

DBEDT’s forecast predicts Maui residents will (in total) enjoy 85% income growth in the next three decades, while those living on Kauai could see their incomes rise by 78%.

By contrast, in the next 30 years Oahu’s total personal income is expected to grow by only 57.3%.

If national-level data are any indication, young women in Hawai`i will soon out-earn their male counterparts. UHH image.

If national-level data are any indication, young women in Hawai`i will soon out-earn their male counterparts. UHH image.

Girl Power

Before we get into the issues of wealth and poverty, there is one topic worth addressing briefly: gender. While the average Hawaii woman earned just under 50% of her male counterpart’s earnings in 1969, Hawaii’s women are closing the gap, earning 82% of their male counterparts’ incomes by 2011.

There is no convincing state-level data on expected future earnings of women, but national-level data point to a continuing trend toward higher incomes for the fairer sex. In fact, in many areas young women are now consistently out-earning their male counterparts.

The ‘Haves,’ and the ‘Not so Much’

The Big Island has the highest percentage of residents living below the poverty line, at 15.8%. Oahu’s poverty rate is dramatically lower, at 9.3%, while Maui and Kauai have 9.2% and 10% of residents living in poverty, respectively.

Worth mentioning is the fact that Hawaii’s poverty thresholds are set 15% higher than those on the mainland, to reflect a higher cost of living. The statewide average of residents living in poverty (according to this measure) is 10.2%.

On the other end of the income spectrum, 29.9% of residents in Hawai`i earn over $100,000 per year. At the top of Hawaii’s income bracket, approximately 5.5% of residents reportedly earn in excess of $200,000 yearly.

But “income” doesn’t necessarily predict wealth. Whether or not they’re working, around 7,000 of Hawaii’s residents are reported to have a total asset value in excess of $2 million dollars.

The Top Three Wealthiest Hawaii Residents

Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar. Courtesy image.

Ebay and Civil Beat founder Pierre Omidyar. Courtesy image.

Sorry, Oprah. You don’t count. Although the queen of mass-giveaways is busy touting an inspired organic farming operation on Maui, she and other part-time residents like Charles Schwab and Kelsey Grammar don’t make this list. Nor does Larry Ellison, just yet – if the majority owner of Lanai makes Hawaii his primary home, he would easily top this list. Forbes ranked Ellison as the third richest American, with a net worth of $41 billion.

All of our top three were either raised in Hawai`i, or have established a primary residence here over time.

Coming in at number one, and holding the title of “Hawaii’s richest resident” as of 2012 was Pierre Omidyar, the 46-year-old founder of Ebay who went on to establish the civil affairs journalism website Honolulu Civil Beat. A generous local philanthropist, Omidyar’s entirely self-made fortune is estimated at approximately $8.2 billion.

Sitting at number two on our list is Blair Parry-Okeden, the granddaughter of Cox Enterprise founder James Cox. Parry-Okeden manages not only to be Hawaii’s wealthiest woman, but until recently held the title of Australia’s richest person. Although she spends considerable time in Australia, the La Pietra Hawai`i School for Girls graduate serves on several boards locally, and has a net worth in excess of $6 billion.

Rounding out the top three is Steve Case, brother to former US representative Ed Case. Case’s fortune is just a fraction of that held by Omidyar and Parry-Okeden, though we doubt he loses sleep over it. Case, who founded one-time internet megalith “America Online” (AOL) was still reportedly worth over $1 billion in 2012.

To see previous editions of By The Numbers, see Related Articles below.

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