Maui News

New report reveals accelerating crisis of Hawaiʻi households living in poverty

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In partnership with Bank of Hawaiʻi Foundation, Aloha United Way has released a new State of ALICE report based on a 2022 survey that indicates “alarming and substantial increases” in the number of households living in poverty. 

The survey looked at the ALICE threshold, an acronym for (Asset, Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and represents households that are unable to make ends meet despite employment.

Those who had fallen from the ALICE Threshold to below the Federal Poverty Line grew from 9% in 2019 to 15% in 2022, a 66% increase. Key findings of the report were released on Tuesday.

About the survey:

Through the vision and financial support of Bank of Hawaiʻi Foundation and in cooperation with the Financial Health Network, Anthology Research, a Hawaiʻi based research firm, and United for ALICE researchers, a survey of 2,391 residents statewide was conducted between July and September 2022.

This was one of the largest surveys of its kind to date and builds on prior research that compares cost of living to household income. However, the methodology of this report differs as it does not depend on the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which served as a key data source for previous research. The US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey was disrupted during the pandemic and deemed unreliable. Hawai’i is the only state in the US distributing ALICE data in 2022.

ALICE in Hawaiʻi: 2022 Facts & Figures tracks both the incidence of financial hardship in Hawaiʻi and the day-to-day impacts on island residents. The survey also referenced questions from the 2019 Hawai‘i Financial Health Pulse survey, developed by the Financial Health Network and sponsored by Bank of Hawaiʻi Foundation and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. The combination of data points in the new survey resulted in a never-before-seen snapshot of how Hawai‘i is faring now.

Findings show uneven pandemic impacts on poverty


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected residents unevenly. Despite billions in relief provided by the private sector and the government, more local households find themselves both in ALICE and below the ALICE Threshold than ever before, according to a news release.

The percentage of ALICE households grew from 42% in 2019 to 44% in 2022. This includes households below the Federal Poverty Line or FPL. More disturbing is the movement of households in the lower income range of ALICE to below the FPL. In 2019, 9% of Hawaiʻi households were below the FPL; in 2022, that percentage grew to 15% of the population.

It is believed that the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and other unexpected economic impacts pushed individuals at the lower end of the ALICE spectrum into poverty.

“These households were one emergency away and the COVID-19 pandemic was that emergency. Making ALICE households more financially resilient before our next crisis is imperative.”

–John Fink, President & CEO of Aloha United Way

Households with children, larger households, and those identifying as Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Filipino are disproportionately affected with hardship and are far more likely to be below the ALICE threshold.


Those making less than $75,000, the equivalent of two household members making $18/hour, are also far more likely to be living in poverty. While significant progress was made to increase the minimum wage during the last legislative session, systemic inequities continue to exist.

Hawaiʻi’s population is doing worse after the pandemic and only 56% of households currently live above the ALICE threshold, according to the report. This economic deterioration can be seen across all islands.

Top 3 issues: mental/physical health, debt, housing costs

The top three issues that residents are struggling with are mental health/physical health or disability, difficulty paying off debt, and housing costs. This is a statewide trend, according to the report.

Households attempt to pay debts by selling items for cash, borrowing from friends and family, or drawing from savings and using credit cards. Based on 2019 data, these debt-coping strategies significantly increased between 2019 and 2022. Nearly half of the households surveyed said they would only be able to cover two months or less of household expenses based on the money they have available.

Nearly one in 10 wouldn’t be able to pay an unexpected $400 expense at all.


The data shows that those households below the ALICE threshold are significantly less likely to use basic financial services like checking/savings accounts, retirement accounts and credit cards. These same households are far more likely to be impacted by negative credit scores, limiting their access to financial aid in an emergency.

History of the ALICE Initiative

The ALICE Initiative was launched in 2018 by Aloha United Way in response to the first State of Hawaiʻi ALICE report.

Since the launch, more than 14,000 households have received access to programs and services aimed at creating greater financial stability and resilience. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be exactly the hardship that many ALICE Households couldn’t navigate.

Combined with inflation and even impacts to transportation costs, households could not sustain the impact and those in the lower ALICE segment fell into poverty.

“This latest ALICE in Hawai‘i report is very eye-opening. The data shines a light on how many of our neighbors are really suffering. And I’m hopeful that the report will create a sense of urgency across our state to help residents through creative solutions and much-needed support,” says Bank of Hawai‘i Chairman, President and CEO Peter S. Ho.

Those leading the ALICE Initiative understand the difficult work ahead and the new data gives the group even more momentum. As a community, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Cross sector collaboration, thoughtful policy, and systemic change must be a top priority, said Kimo Carvalho, Aloha United Way’s Vice President of Community Impact.

The ALICE Initiative is focused on new ideas, unique investment, and collective, data-driven action.

“The combination of policy change, targeted programs and cross-sector collaboration is where we should focus to provide stable and affordable housing opportunities, build pathways to economic mobility, and create short-term, emergency funding for ALICE households to mitigate emergency impacts,” said Aloha United Way’s Vice President of Community Impact, Kimo Carvalho.

In 2022, Aloha United Way and the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation joined in partnership to administer the 2022 -2024 ALICE Initiative. AUW and HCF each contribute $750,000 per year for the next three years – a total of $4.5 million – to a cohort of 17 nonprofit organizations to support their work on key issues facing ALICE households, specifically relating to financial stability, building savings, and safe and affordable housing. Financial support has also been pledged locally to the AUW ALICE Fund for the next three years by the Bank of Hawaiʻi Foundation, Hawai’i Pacific Health, HMSA, Hawaiian Electric Industries, and Locations Foundation, Inc.

“As a community, we have to change the trajectory of ALICE families and it’s going to take cross-sector collaboration to do it,” says Micah Kāne, CEO & President of Hawai‘i Community Foundation. “As a bright spot, we’re seeing the business community really lean into supporting families in Hawai‘i by strategically aligning their resources in partnership. If you look across the country, that is not a common happening.”

To view the complete report, engage with the ALICE Initiative, support the AUW ALICE Fund and access the press kit, please visit the Aloha United Way website.


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