By Howard E. Daniel
Several weeks ago, some important information flickered into the news, then disappeared. The story: Hawaii was handed an abysmal “report card” – the kind that, in the “good old days,” if Hawaii had been a kid, would have gotten us a licking we’d never forget.
Of the three overall grades in the 2000 Development Report Card for the States, issued Oct. 17, Hawaii earned two Ds and an F – the Ds for “performance” and “development capacity,” the F for “business vitality.” Most appalling are the grades for the 73 subcategories, examined below, on which the two Ds and the F are based.
Only four states did worse: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia. Hawaii stands in the bottom 10 percent, together with perennially depressed West Virginia and three Southern states.
In the 50th state, sadly, we have become accustomed to ranking at or near No. 50.
For many of us who love Hawaii, it is easier to ignore the report than to pause and reflect. Some in our string of bad report cards come from conservative groups that view Hawaii’s liberal politics skeptically.
This report card, however, is hardly the work of conservatives. It was produced by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit, non-partisan organization devoted to fostering “widely shared and sustainable economic well-being.” Spokesperson Heather Sabrie considers CFED “middle of the road” but acknowledges it is “sometimes called liberal.” CFED’s mission, she says, is “about making economies work.” The Report Card for the States: “A measure of the quality of life.”
Ignoring the evidence that Hawaii lags behind the other states in so many indicators of well-being would be shortsighted. We deserve the same opportunities the rest of America takes for granted.
It would be a mistake to dismiss the CFED’s A-to-F grades as more subjective than objective. The three overall grades are derived from scores on a total of 73 indicators. Each score is based on data from solid sources like the Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor, etc. For each indicator, or subcategory, the data are used to rank the states from 1 (best) to 50 (worst).
In each category and subcategory, the top 10 states earn an A, the second 10 earn a B, the next 15 (i.e., states 21-35) earn a C, the next 10 (i.e., states 36-45) earn a D, and the final five (i.e., states 46-50) earn an F.
The subcategories tell a compelling story.
First the good news: In 12 subcategories, Hawaii earned an A, i.e., we were in the top 10. In 27 subcategories, Hawaii got a B or C, i.e., we ranked between 11 and 35.
The bad news: In 13 subcategories, Hawaii merited a D. That is, of the 50 states, we came in between 36 and 46.
The really awful news: In 21 subcategories, Hawaii earned an F. We ranked in the bottom five nearly a third of the time.
Adding our 13 Ds and 21 Fs, in nearly half the subcategories Hawaii ranked in the bottom 15.
The specifics are still more distressing. Among Hawaii’s Ds:
- Long-term employment growth: No. 43
- Crime: No. 39 (in the “Aloha State”)
- Technology companies: No. 40
- Reading proficiency: No. 39 (The education subcategories are devastating. Hawaii’s public schools are notorious; poor education keeps us behind our global competition.)
- High school graduation: No. 38
Among Hawaii’s Fs:
- Unemployment: No. 46 (Following the release of the report card, DBEDT Director Seiji Naya pointed out that this ranking was based on last year’s figure – 5.6 percent. The unemployment rate for this August, Naya noted, was just 4.5 percent. Despite the improvement, Hawaii still ranks only No. 41, a D.)
- Mass layoffs: No. 49
- Average annual pay growth: No. 48
- Involuntary part-time employment: No. 50 (Dead last in a statistic that reflects the thousands of Hawaii residents who must work two or more jobs to get by.)
- Net migration: No. 50 (More people leave Hawaii than move here; the nation’s largest net outflow.)
- Home ownership: No. 48 (Da kine “American dream”)
- Voting rate: No. 50 (What a correlation! If more of us voted, state government might work more effectively.)
- Average teacher salary: No. 50 (See “reading proficiency,” above.)
- K-12 education expenditures: No. 49 (ditto)
- Urban housing costs: No. 48 (Mirrors home ownership, above.)
These results cannot be dismissed as based on old data. The low scores are too pervasive, and too reflective of a string of past rankings, to be the mere product of our recent slump. They are the result of systemic problems that have been festering for many years.
This report card should be a wake-up call. It shows, among much else, that the dreams John Burns had when he led the “Democratic revolution” five decades ago have become a nightmare.
It’s time to look in the mirror. For starters, anyone interested can find the report on the Internet at drc.cfed.org.
A good next step might be to reconsider our habit of voting mainly for incumbents. This report card reflects an appalling degree of governmental drift and stagnation. If our state government is to once again effectively promote the public well-being, putting some new policymakers in office would be a good start. In Tuesday’s election, the entire State House of Representatives and half the State Senate is at stake. Making changes would be the people’s way of “giving a licking” to those responsible for our lousy report card.
Hawaii doesn’t have to stay No. 50.
Kailua resident Howard E. Daniel works as a writer and editor.
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