Images by Marie Eriel Hobro

The picture painted by recent statistics is a rosy one. Tourism is flourishing. In 2018 alone, visitors to Hawai‘i hit the 9 million mark with the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism projecting that arrivals will surpass 10 million visitors in 2019. Unemployment is the lowest it has been since 1976. Hawai‘i’s household and family income continues to rise, remaining as one of the highest in the nation.

But the cost of living is rising too—and at a more rapid rate. Housing prices are reaching a peak. To afford a two-bedroom rental, renters need to earn an average of $36.13 an hour. Hawai‘i’s minimum wage remains at $10.10. Today, a yearly salary of $96,000 is considered low-income for a family of four. It seems that Hawai‘i’s workers are always one step behind, and often will resort to multiple jobs to get ahead.


Courtnie Tokuda

“Teaching has always been the dream. There’s a misconception that being a preschool teacher means just playing with kids all day. But we’re teaching them things like empathy and compassion—how to be a decent human being. I have a master’s degree and 10 years of teaching experience, and, still, I take in more money per hour being a server than being a teacher. If I didn’t have to work two jobs then I could devote more time and energy to helping my students. There’s just not enough investment in education. But this is our future. These kids are our future.”

Age: 32
60 hours per week
Day job: Lead teacher at St. Philomena Early Learning Center
Second job: Server at Tanaka Saimin for 3 years, 5 to 11 p.m.
Income: second shift, $27,000, total gross, $67,000


James Orlando

“I’ve lived in Hawai‘i for eight years. The cost of living has always been too much. For young adults, achieving our dreams means needing to overwork ourselves. After working 15-hours at my day job, I’ll devote whatever time I have left to my small business. I always feel like I’m at the edge of burning out. This is just part of the lifestyle we need to live now, otherwise it wouldn’t be sustainable. But I don’t think I could ever stop. I’ve been making pizzas since I was 14-years-old. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Age: 26
80 hours per week
Day job: Lead baker at Kokua Market, Pizzaiolo at Brick Fire Tavern
Second job: Baker, owner of Fatto A Mano, 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Income: second shift, $50,000, total gross, $100,000


Madeline Escalante

“Being a single mom is hard. Hawai‘i is already expensive enough, but when you’re on your own with two sons, one of them going through college, it gets tough. I’ve been a single mom for 8 years. No income, no help, nothing from their father. Going through college, I was a single mom. I would wake up at 5 in the morning, take the kids to school, go to work, pick them up, and study after they’ve gone to bed. But I’m luckier than most because my family is a great support system. Even though Hawai‘i is so unaffordable, I could never move. Leaving Hawai‘i means leaving my family. I’ve never had the thought that this is too much. Everything I do is for my kids.”

Age: 49
55 hours per week
Day job: Accountant at Elite Mechanics
Second job: Driver for Lyft and Uber for the past year, 6 to 9 p.m.
Income: second shift, $20,000, total gross, $68,000


Virginia Lin

“My parents and I emigrated from Hong Kong in 2001. They wanted to retire in Hawai‘i. They got a house in Kapahulu. The mortgage was over $500,000. I had to work four jobs to help them with their payments. At one point, I worked 109 hours per week, every week for four years. Now, I have my own mortgage and a 1-year-old. It’s tiring being a single mom and working over 60 hours a week. My days are either working, preparing food for the baby, or catching up on sleep. I don’t get much time to play with her, but I hope she understands. Even if Hawai’i is so expensive, I could never leave. My parents are over 70-years-old. If I move away, who’s going to take care of them?”

Join our newsletter to get stories right in your inbox.

(No spam unless it comes in a musubi!)



Age: 38
62 hours per week
Day job: Sales associate at HMSA
Second job: Server at Rainbow Drive-In for 4 years, 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Income: second shift, $10,000, total gross, $60,000


Lindsey Paresa

“Everyone that’s born and raised here dreams of one day owning a place where they grew up. But it’s nearly impossible nowadays. I don’t want to rent for the rest of my life. I want to own a home, more so now that I have a newborn. I was born in Kailua. Land was affordable there at one point, but today? Gentrification is everywhere. There’s all this talk of growth, and it’s good, but everyone else is being pushed out. I love Hawai‘i, have always wanted to live and work on O‘ahu. But with how the cost of living is now, that dream is looking increasingly difficult.”

Age: 30
70 hours per week
Day job: Bartender at The Laylow Hotel
Second job: Bartender at The Manifest, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Income: second shift, $20,000, total gross, $60,000