Our Islands, Our Future

A telling indicator of economic duress is local residents leaving Hawaii for good.

At the airport, departing family members or friends look no different than other people. There is no way of knowing their reasons for pulling up stakes and leaving Hawaii. The census eventually tells us what happened. During the 1990s, 118,201 more people left Hawaii to reside in the mainland U.S. than all the people who migrated to Hawaii from other states. The most recent exodus of islanders to the mainland began as a trickle in 1990, gaining momentum during 1995 to 2000, when out-migrants totaled 201,293, a number greater than the population of Maui County today.

Maui Relocation

A Census Bureau report released in 2003 stated that from 1995-2000, “among all states, the highest net out-migration rate was in Hawaii.” The pace of out-migration lessened after 2000 as the economy improved. However, the exodus resumed two years later. In 2006-2007, there was net out-migration of 11,849, and the trend continued the following year with the onset of the current recession.

Today there is evidence of a new population flight from Hawaii. As Hawaii’s annual unemployment rate jumped from 4% to 7% in 2009, Maui County’s climbed to over 9%, and total net out-migration from July, 2008 to July, 2009 was 5,298 people. But the sheer numbers of departing residents do not tell the whole story. Not all departures from Hawaii result from economic hardship.

Many local students leave to attend colleges on the mainland. Seniors are attracted to more affordable retirement locations.  Some who leave are not native-born at all, but mainlanders who, after sampling life in Hawaii, return to their homes of origin. For others, leaving home is a consequence of falling in love, or wanderlust. And our transient military population adds to the count of mainland relocations. Population loss is a sensitive social issue, especially with the out-migration of youth and a skilled workforce. Although Americans are notoriously mobile people with an ongoing saga of population movement, a state or county that is aiming for economic stability and Sustainability must address these trends.

Question Of The Week:
Has a family member left Maui Nui for work?

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