Hawaii population continues to dwindle

HONOLULU, Jan. 4, 2022 >> Hawaii’s population declined by 0.7% between July 2020 and July 2021, the third greatest per capita population decline in the country, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.[1]

Hawaii trailed only New York, at -1.6%, and Illinois, at -0.9%.

Hawaii’s net loss of 10,358 residents in fiscal 2021 marked the fifth year in a row that the state has shown a population decline, according to the Census Bureau’s population estimates program.[2]

In December 2020, census data showed Hawaii’s population declining by 8,609 in fiscal 2020 and 7,487 in fiscal 2019.[3]

“Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, yet residents continue to leave in search of better opportunities elsewhere,” said Keliʻi Akina, president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. “If there are any state or county politicians who are not yet aware of this fact, let us hope that this latest information drives the point home.”

According to the census data, Hawaii had 1,441,553 residents as of July 2021, compared to 1,451,911 the previous year.[4] This included 15,904 births and 14,648 deaths, for a “natural increase” of 1,256. The Bureau also estimated a net inflow of 1,077 people — including both immigrants and United States citizens returning from abroad — moving to Hawaii from international locations.

All of the decline, then, came from continuing out-migration to the mainland, with the difference between people moving to and from the mainland equaling negative 12,603.[5]

Early last year, 2020 census returns showed the state’s population increasing from 2010 to 2020 by 7%.[6] The timing and composition of this increase remain poorly understood, pending ongoing Census Bureau evaluation of the 2020 census and review of its population estimates for the previous decade, results of which are expected later this year.

In any case, the underlying reasons for Hawaii’s population loss persist. All data point to a steady out-migration of Hawaii residents to the mainland throughout the past decade, increasing since 2016, and continuing this past year.[7] For the most part, the reasons come down to Hawaii’s high cost of living, lack of housing and lack of job and business opportunities.

According to a 2019 survey by Pacific Resource Partnership, the main reasons people cited for leaving Hawaii were its high cost of living, 86%, and the high cost of housing, 83%.[8]

In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis provided data showing Hawaii’s cost of living as the highest in the nation, 12% greater than the national average.[9]

In 2021, the BEA found that Honolulu was one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country, with a cost of living 13% higher than the average metropolitan area.[10]

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s “Why we left Hawaii” series documents the stories of dozens of people who felt compelled to say “Aloha” to Hawaii. Here is what some former Hawaii residents had to say:

>> “Most of my family is still in Hawaii. A few are in different states. They moved for schools, low costs of living and higher pay,” said Pearl Hori, now a resident of Lacey, Wash.[11]

>> “I don’t believe we could ever afford to live there again,” said Kirk French, now a resident of Rural Hall, N.C. “We miss Hawaii though.”[12]

>> “[My family] moved to where housing and land is affordable. There are lots of job opportunities and better pay,” said Eric Lee, now a resident of Apple Valley, Minn.[13]

Said Akina: “With thousands of people leaving Hawaii each year, it is well past time that the Legislature focus on policies that will lower the cost of living and expand opportunities.  Lowering taxes, reducing barriers to new housing and pushing for Jones Act reform would be good places to start. We simply must create a better environment for our family, friends and neighbors, who right now seem to be seeing a better future for themselves just about anywhere but Hawaii.”

[1] “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021,” U.S. Census Bureau, Dec. 2021; Calculations of population change by state, fiscal 2021,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Jan. 3, 2021.

[2] Ibid. See also, “NEWS RELEASE: Hawaii has third-fastest population decline in nation,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Dec. 23, 2020.

[3] NEWS RELEASE: Hawaii has third-fastest population decline in nation.”

[4] U.S. Census data, accessed Jan. 3, 2022.

[5] Calculating these numbers will not equal the net loss of 10,358 due to a residual that cannot be attributed to any specific demographic component of population change, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. See Footnote 1 in Annual and Cumulative Estimates of the Components of Resident Population Change for the United States, Regions, States, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021.” 

[6] 2020 Census Data: Hawaii’s Population Climbs 7% in 10 Years,” U.S. News and World Report, from The Associated Press, April 26, 2021.

[7] Annual Population Estimates, Estimated Components of Resident Population Change, and Rates of the Components of Resident Population Change for the United States, States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2020,” U.S. Census Bureau, December 2021.

[8]  Hawaii Perspectives,” Pacific Resource Partnership, Fall 2019, p. 12.

[9] Real Personal Consumption Expenditures and Personal Income by State, 2020,” U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Dec. 14, 2021.

[10] Regional Data,” U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, data from 2020, accessed Jan. 3, 2021. See the Regional Price Parities (MARRP) map under the Personal Income and Employment by County and Metropolitan Area tab.

[11] ‘I didn’t know how much better it is outside of Hawaii’; Why Pearl Hori left Hawaii,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Dec. 20, 2021.

[12] ‘I don’t believe we could ever afford to live there again’: Why Kirk French left Hawaii,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Nov. 2, 2021.

[13] Our broken education system: Why Eric Lee left Hawaii,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Dec. 28, 2021.

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