Hawaii leads nation
in tutus living
with grandkids

Cultural norms locally embrace
extended families living together

Hawaii has more than double the national average of households where grandparents and grandchildren live under the same roof and leads the nation in that category, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study released yesterday.

About 8 percent of Hawaii households -- 32,182 -- include both grandparents and their grandchildren, compared with the national average of 3.9 percent, according to Census 2000 estimates. That translates to 49,237 grandparents living with grandchildren in Hawaii.

The bureau also estimated that about 28.5 percent, or 14,029, of grandparents in Hawaii were the primary caregivers for their grandchildren, one of the lowest percentages in the nation in that category.

Grandparents who were raising their grandchildren in Hawaii were also more likely to be over 60 years old and less likely to be living in poverty than in other states.


People who work with the elderly say the numbers are not surprising.

"There's a real cultural difference in Hawaii where extended family really is part of the cultural and community fabric here," said Greg Marchildon, executive director of AARP Hawaii.

"Grandparents are just much more involved in the lives of their grandchildren here than on the mainland," Marchildon said. "That is a positive thing."

Marchildon said he expects the number of families where grandparents and grandchildren live together to double by the next census, since Hawaii also has the fastest-growing elderly population in the country.

He noted that while the census asked about grandparents taking care of grandchildren, it did not ask about families that take care of grandparents.

"We know families caring for elderly parents or grandparents is happening at a very high clip," Marchildon said.

Pat Sasaki, the director of the state's Executive Office on Aging, said families sometimes pool their resources and live together because of Hawaii's high cost of housing.

"When you think about our state's recent economy, I don't think we should be too surprised that family members are living together," she said.

Jackie Chong, of the grandparent's advocacy group Na Tutu, said the comparatively low percentage of caregiving grandparents is surprising to her.

"In the past 10 to 20 years it (grandparents raising grandchildren) has grown immensely," Chong said.

She said Hawaii's drug problem has put some parents in prison and made others incapable of taking care of their children, which has led to the increase in grandparents taking care of grandchildren here.

Nationwide, the bureau said, about 2.4 million grandparents were responsible for "most of the basic needs" of a grandchild in the home. That is 42 percent of the 5.8 million grandparents living with a grandchild.

In Hawaii, Filipinos and native Hawaiians had the highest percentage of grandparents living with grandchildren, according to the census.

About 12 percent of native Hawaiian grandparents and 14.7 percent of Filipino grandparents live with grandchildren.

Native Hawaiians had a much higher percentage of grandparents who were primary caregivers to their grandchildren -- about 38 percent of grandparents who identified themselves as native Hawaiian took care of their grandchildren.

People who identified themselves as white in the census have one of the lowest percentages, 3.4 percent, of grandparents living with grandchildren in Hawaii.

The grandparenting data in 2000 comes from three questions asked on the "long-form" questionnaire distributed to one in six households.

Congress first took interest in the plight of grandparents as caregivers while reforming the nation's welfare system in 1996. But because little government data existed on the issue, lawmakers ordered the Census Bureau to ask about it for the first time in 2000.

Since then, legislation that would aid grandparents has been introduced in Congress. A bill approved this week by a Senate committee helps caregiving grandparents pay for housing, while a second bill would allow states to use federal funds to support subsidized guardianship payments to grandparents and other relatives.

"Those that need financial support deserve financial support to keep their families together and that's something that policy-makers have not dealt with yet," said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, which advocates for families in which elderly and young people live together.

Marchildon said there is good news in Hawaii's census data on grandparents, and the issues raised need to be studied more closely.

"If we can figure out what's right and what's good here, we're going to put ourselves in a really terrific position to make things happen and be a model for the rest of the nation," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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