Businesses across the state are working to fill vacant positions as minimum wage increases to $12 per hour. (Photo by Cameron Enomoto)

By Juri Dagio and Cameron Enomoto | Staff Writers

Arden Li, a 22-year-old KCC student, is preparing to move out of her childhood home and currently works at a grocery store that paid minimum wage. Additionally, Li is working to pay off her car loan and save money for an emergency fund.

She is in support of the minimum wage increase to $12 that began in October.

“These are tough times for people,” said Li. “The cost of living in Hawaiʻi is already horrible, but inflation is making it even worse.”

On Sept. 29, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) announced that per Act 114, Session Laws of Hawaiʻi (2022), the minimum wage across the state would increase to $12 per hour beginning Oct. 1. Minimum wage will continue to increase incrementally over the next few years until it reaches $18.00 per hour on Jan. 1, 2028. This is the first increase in the Hawaiʻi minimum wage since the rate was set at $10.10 per hour in 2018.

According to Hawaiʻi News Now, the increase in pay will provide approximately 88,000 workers with a liveable wage. People who work 40 hours a week could make around $300 more a month with the new law.

“For some people, it can be pretty difficult to find good work with fair wages and benefits,” said Li. “Like some of my family members who are in their 70s still have to work because they couldn’t find a good job. With wages being increased, more people will be able to actually afford what they need to, like food and clothes.”

Li recalls watching a customer ring up her items at self-checkout and being unable to pay the balance because her card was declined. The customer had been accompanied by two young children at the time.

“I felt so horrible because she [the customer] came over to me and asked if I could help her put things back because she didn’t remember where she got them from,” Li said. “I really wanted to help her pay but I couldn’t because I am struggling to pay for my own expenses now. With the new law, I hope that people will be able to live better and be happier because I wouldn’t wish financial hardships on anyone.”

The wage is set to increase to $14 per hour on Jan. 1, 2024, and again to $16 on Jan. 1, 2026. During a September press release, the DLIR director, Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, said, “The purpose of the minimum wage law is to protect the health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers. The minimum wage rate is a floor designed to protect workers against unduly low pay.”

However, not everyone is happy about the increased pay. Some are worried that higher wages will result in higher costs transferred to the customers.

“I don’t know why people are happy about a wage increase,” said Nathaniel Choy, a 19-year-old student at KCC. “It’s just going to ruin the economy more and make prices disproportionate.”

Choy works at a local movie theater and believes that the previous wage of $10.10 per hour is fair.

“The work is minimal and anyone could do it,” Choy said. “If people want to make more money, get a better job. It’s not that hard. I don’t have to pay bills or anything, but if I needed to I would just get an office job with a salary and benefits. I would be okay because there are so many jobs out there right now.”