Lack of higher-paying jobs weighs on state's wages
A local economist says Hawaii's quality of life must be considered
Blue-collar workers in Oahu's hottest industries -- tourism and construction -- lead the nation in wages, but it's clear that other employees may have to find part of their compensation in the sun and sand.
Despite the high cost of living in Hawaii, the state's average wage of $37,044 is slightly below the U.S. average of $37,876, according to a recent survey released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which analyzed 2005 wages by area and occupation.
Employees in Hawaii's tight service and construction industries are working for premium wages, but the state's average pay is brought down by a relative lack of higher-paying professional jobs. While Hawaii's waiters, bartenders, bellhops, porters and laundry attendants make more than their peers in other regions of the United States, their supervisors as a whole do not.
For instance, the average wage of a hotel clerk in Hawaii is $29,750, which puts isle workers in that industry at the top of the nation. On the other hand, Hawaii's hotel lodging managers rank lower nationally with a wage of $59,550. These white-collar professionals earn more than the U.S. average of $47,424 but bring home far less money than their top-ranked peers in other states.
The state has a disproportionate number of lower-paying service industry jobs as compared with other regions, said Charlotte Yee, regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in San Francisco.
There are also fewer engineering, high-tech, medical, science and executive-level jobs in Hawaii than in other parts of the country, she said.
Furthermore, high-tech computer jobs, which are driving some mainland communities' economies, pay from 10 percent to nearly 30 percent less in Hawaii.
"There is a strong correlation between firm size and wages," Yee said. "Typically, the larger the firm, the higher the pay."
Other places like California's Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle in North Carolina have higher wages, she said.
"These competitive clusters are able to bid for the best and brightest talent, and often do," Yee said. "Hawaii also attracts high talent, but often these applicants are lured by non-financial aspects such as climate and family."
Paul Brewbaker, Bank of Hawaii's chief economist, said job comparisons with the mainland must account for the state's quality of life.
"When you read the statistics and you say that they mean Hawaii sucks -- that's exactly the wrong interpretation," Brewbaker said. "Really, they mean that Hawaii is so cool that people are willing to put up with this. I don't lose a lot of sleep over this data because I know the whole compensation package."