PRICE OF PARADISE
WHAT COST PEACE OF MIND?
It's A Nice Place To Visit. But You Wouldn't Want To Live Here.
Thanks to all who helped us out. We're far from out of the woods, but we're ahead of the wolves, anyway. Most of us live quite marginally here in Hawaii, and my few real friends are no exception. I've always done what I could to help them, and they have been a big help to me. That now includes some of you. I owe you some blog, though I'm worn out from job-hunting. I'd rather hunt snark. Snark-snark!
I'm from New York, and I've lived in LA and San Francisco, expensive cities, but you can earn good money there. The prices are as high or higher here: Many things are literally double the price you'd pay even in NY. Regular middle class 3-4 BR/ 2-3bath homes go for $500,000 to several million, depending upon location.
Nobody gets any land: No such thing as an acre, here. A crummy little 3BR/1bath house is $300,000- $600,000: The median home sale price passed $500k, statewide, this year. Subsidized, "affordable housing" is $200- $300k+, for a 2-3br condo; an hour or more from town, where all the jobs are.Yet, the real average income is $20,000- $30,000, with lots of people working for much less.
I haven't done it since high school, but many many many people here work for minimum wage, $6-something an hour, part-time, so the employer doesn't have to pay benefits. So the employee has to work two, three, even four jobs to pay his bills. The average studio apartment is $700/mo. Forty hours at say, $7/hr is $280, gross. The take-home would be closer to two hundred.
That's $800+ month, minus $700 for rent; leaving only $100+ for food, clothing, medicine, and that all important bus-pass, $40. EVERYBODY is on food stamps, or EBT cards here. You see it whenever you go to the supermarket. People live on ramen noodles, rice and Spam, no joke: Adults, families, everybody. I've never gotten food stamps, and I hope I will never have to. It's tough right now, though.
The prices are double here. The wages are half. The weather is great, 60-70 at night, 70-80 daytime, year-round; a little rain in the Winter, the occaisional hurricane or tsunami; otherwise, paradise. They call the cost of living here the "Price of Paradise." And everybody says, sarcastically, "Lucky you live Hawaii."
Why do people stay? Family. Tradition. Culture. Religion. Hawaii is America's only majority "non-white" State. The largest ethnic groups are local Japanese, Philipino, and mixed-Hawaiian. Hawaii also has a plurality of Buddhists. Most are East Asians. It's a bit of a shock to them when they go to the Mainland, and see how few their numbers are, in most places.
Hawaii people tend to go only to places like Vegas, Disneyland, 'Frisco and Manhattan, so they don't get much of an idea of reality back there. Still, all it takes is one yokel saying "YOU SPEAKEE ENGLISH?" to them to make them think about going home, to Hawaii. Plus, you can't get Spam in a restaurant ovah dere!
As for the rest of us, Mainlanders, whites, "fuckin' haoles," we do enjoy the same weather. But we're not welcome, and we know it. We're reminded every day, sometimes violently. Why don't we leave? Stubbornness. Love of the "aina" (land), and some of the "kanaka" (people). A lot of us are just stuck here. Your Mainland stash of cash runs out pretty quick, and it's extremely difficult to get that kind of money again, here.
Moving back is just as hard as moving here: It's like emigrating to a foreign country: You have to either ship your car and your entire household, a lengthy and expensive process, or sell it for whatever you can get, and start from scratch on the Mainland. If you don't have a place waiting for you back there, that means hitting the airport with no job, no transportation, no home, and no clothes suited to anything but a tropical climate. It's difficult, if not impossible, for many of us.
Most people I know are in the same situation: Without "ohana" (family) here, you scrape by as best you can, taking any job, any apartment. Even long-time "locals" live in small, cramped, over-crowded conditions: Most have no room, literally, to take anyone in. Urbanization on Oahu, an island 140 miles in circumference, with a population of almost one million, has all but wiped out the old Hawaiian traditions of "aloha," and "hanai," or adopting strangers into one's family.
They can barely take care of their own families now, cut off from fishing and agriculture, removed from their ancestral country homes, and jammed into little houses and still smaller apartments in ever-expanding towns and suburbs here, scraping by on their shit jobs. It's getting to be poi-dog- eat-dog.
There is no industry here: Agriculture is dying; we quit growing sugar on Oahu several years ago, and the last refinery closed shortly thereafter. Pineapple is next: We can't compete with the Third World. Housing is going up on a lot of the old plantation lands. Farm-workers for generations are scrambling for jobs making beds or sweeping up at the hotels. And no more plantation housing included. Some people actually miss the bad old days they're always complaining about.
Hawaii was built on agriculture, but nothing has taken its place. The military pumps money in, but, since the first Gulf War, a lot of it is just passing through, to or from the Middle East. That leaves tourism, which provides almost no middle-class jobs. Retail is largely related to tourism, but there are few good-paying jobs there, either. Construction has picked up, recently, but competition for jobs is fierce, and the skilled trades are all but closed to new people not "connected" by family.
The financial sector, and the professions are tiny. That leaves only the government, which employs almost thirty per cent of the entire workforce. They don't pay well, but you're not expected to do much. It's like welfare with a broom, a shovel, a pencil or a keyboard. And the rest of us pay for it, in poor service, and high taxes.
Property taxes are relatively low, but the excise tax is "pyramided," especially on locally-produced goods and services, so the 4% becomes 16%, though only the last 4% shows up on your receipts: The tax is applied at every step in production of everything we buy here. Things produced outside the State are only taxed once, so there is a built-in disincentive to local industry.
We import "roach motels" from Japan (the most expensive country in the world): A small cardboard box with glue on the bottom of it, inside: $5 at Safeway. Yet nobody tries to compete, locally. And government and local businesses do nothing to encourage new businesses. Why should they? They have jobs.
There is no price competition here, either: Four different brands of corn flakes all cost exactly the same. Go to another supermarket, and the price is the same there. Even Walmart and K-Mart charge higher prices than non-discounters on the Mainland. They all blame it on the "Price of Paradise," especially shipping. Remember we make NOTHING here.
If there's a strike or a natural disaster, or even a problem with one container ship, we run out of EVERYTHING in two to twelve weeks. Everything. Some things are flown in, but that's expensive. The only two shippers (thanks to Jones Act restrictions on foreign carriers between US ports) Matson and Sealand, or whatever they call themselves this morning, whose prices are raised in lockstep, claim they only add 15% to the price of everything they ship.
But that box of cereal is $5-$7. The milk is $4-$7/gallon. Peanut butter is $3-$5 a pound. Somebody is making a lot more than 15% over Mainland prices.
Greed has a lot to do with the prices. Gasoline hasn't been below $1.30 in more than ten years, below $1.50 in over five years, below $1.75 in three years, below $2.00 in two years, below $2.20 in many months. Even when gas prices dropped on the Mainland, to less than $1/gal in some places, they never budged, here. It's gouging, plain and simple.
The locals, most of whom have never been to the Mainland, simply don't know any better. There are no consumer-protection laws here, with teeth. Merchants charge whatever they please. You can take it, or leave the State. It's worse on the other islands.
The cost of land, and mortgage payments, and rents, contribute to the high prices of things here. 30-40% of all the land is owned, leased or controlled by the City, State or Federal government. A lot of the land is unusable: too high, too steep, too rocky, too close to the ocean, too wet.
Then there's the ten per cent or more of all the usable land that's owned by a few big trusts and estates. They lease the land out, and people pay rent on it, to build houses and businesses. They never really own anything. It's almost feudal. We live in a Third-World, plantation economy, even after all these years. My advice: When your travellers' checks run out, GO HOME!
Otherwise, be prepared to work your ass off, and still live on the edge. Hard to enjoy the Paradise, because of the Price. I need to go outside and breathe in some of that free, flowery air. More later.
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