Hawaii Receives B- on Women’s Economic Security Status, but Wide Disparities Exist

Washington, DC and Honolulu, HI—Despite gains in education, business ownership and health insurance coverage over the last decade, women in Hawaii still face declining labor force participation rates, a widening wage gap and stagnant wages, according to an in-depth new report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

The report was commissioned by Women’s Fund of Hawaii (WFH), a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women and girls in Hawaii, through a donation from the Wallace, Elizabeth, and Isabella Wong Family Foundation. The findings will be used to inform WFH grant making and programming, says Leela Bilmes Goldstein, WFH executive director.

IWPR graded and ranked women’s status in Hawaii based on its signature Employment & Earnings Index, which includes data on women’s earnings and labor force participation, and Poverty & Opportunity Index, which includes data on poverty and measures of opportunity, such as education, business ownership and health insurance coverage. Hawaii received a B- on each index, but the report shows that women in the state have widely different experiences depending on their race/ethnicity, education level, and household status.

For instance, women in Hawaii earn just 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the state, down from 83 cents in 2003. But some groups of women have narrower gaps than others. Compared with every dollar earned by white men in Hawaii, the largest group in the state’s labor force, Japanese women earned 92 cents, white women earned 88 cents and Korean women earned 84 cents, while Filipinas and Native Hawaiian women earned just 63 cents and 71 cents, respectively.

“On overall scores, women in Hawaii appear to be faring better than women in other states, but once you dig into differences among women, it is clear that progress on women’s economic security in the state is not shared equally,” said IWPR Senior Research Associate Julie Anderson.

Other findings from the in-depth report include:

Unequal Earnings Are Holding Hawaii’s Economy Back

  • ●Despite tepid improvement since 2003, women’s earnings in 2015 ($40,000) fall 11 percent short (or nearly $4,500 less) of what some estimates say a single woman in Hawaii without children must earn to meet their basic needs. A single woman with an infant would need to earn nearly $69,000, or $29,000 more than a typical woman’s earnings in Hawaii.
  • ●Nearly half (49 percent) of all Hawaii families with young children have a breadwinner mother. If working women in Hawaii received equal pay, 61 percent of working mothers would see an earnings increase, and the state of Hawaii would see an additional $2.4 billion in wage and salary income.
  • ●If current progress toward equal pay continues, the gender wage gap in Hawaii will not close until 2051, 34 years from now.

Stark Differences in Women’s Poverty Rates by Race/Ethnicity, Education, and Household Status Indicate Economic Inequality

  • ●More than one-third (37 percent) of Pacific Islander women in Hawaii live in poverty, more than triple the average for women overall (10 percent) and nearly six times the rate among Filipino and Japanese women (around 6 percent for both). (The federal poverty threshold does not factor in highly variable expenses such as housing. Given the exceptionally high cost of living in Hawaii, these poverty rates may be an underestimation.)
  • ●Women in Hawaii without a high school education are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as those with at least some college (19 percent, compared with 10 percent). Women with a bachelor’s degree or higher have the lowest poverty rate at 5 percent. There are wide disparities in access to education: about one in five Chinese, Filipino, and Pacific Islander women in Hawaii do not have a high school education, compared with only 4 percent of white women.
  • ●If women earned the same as comparable men, the poverty rate among working women and working single mothers would fall by more than half. The poverty rate among children of working mothers would be cut by more than half, falling to 5 percent from 11 percent.

Women in Hawaii Face Challenges to Living Healthy, Safe Lives

  • ●High school girls experience much higher rates of sexual and physical violence than boys. Nearly one in five high school girls experience bullying while at school and more than one in seven high school girls experienced sexual dating violence. Over one-quarter of Hawaii women report unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime.
  • ●More than two in five women in Hawaii (44 percent) experience psychological aggression from an intimate partner, nearly a third of women in Hawaii (31percent) face physical violence, and 14 percent face sexual violence by an intimate partner.

“With this report, we can see a more complete picture of how women fare in the state. If we want to develop effective policies and programs that aim to reduce poverty, grow the economy and improve safety in our state, then we must understand these disparities,” said Christine Chee-Ruiter, WFH board member who reviewed the findings. “On the surface, women in Hawaii may seem like they are faring better than women elsewhere, but as this report shows, there is still much more work to be done to ensure all women in the state achieve economic security.”

The report concludes with policy recommendations to narrow the wage gap with men, support caregivers, and promote educational attainment and business ownership that would improve the status of women in Hawaii.