Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Immigrants boost Hawaii economy by $17 billion

Immigrants are major contributors to Hawaii’s economy, according to a new report from New American Economy that finds that immigrants in Hawaii contributed $17.6 billion to the local economy in 2018, with over $874 million going to state and local taxes.

The report, titled “Immigrants and Migrants in Hawai’i: Essential Contributors to the State’s Workforce and Economy,” was released today, and is a comprehensive picture of new Americans in Hawaii. It highlights the size and steady growth in the immigrant population in the region and their impact on the local economy, including injecting more money into local businesses and municipal budgets as consumers, workers, and taxpayers. Despite these contributions, the report also underscores the disproportionate impact that the current pandemic has had on the immigrant population.

“Hawaii’s immigrant and Micronesian migrant residents, as well as the state’s Pacific Islander citizens, are among the most hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic — through loss of jobs, health impacts, and housing and food instability — and yet they also represent a significant share of our essential workforce,” said Bettina Mok, Executive Director of The Legal Clinic. “Our state and counties must do more to provide culturally- and linguistically-appropriate resources that inform and assist Hawaii’s foreign-born residents who make up about 20 percent of our population. Not only are they essential workers, they are our relatives, our co-workers, and our friends.” 

Immigrants widen and deepen the labor market with a vast array of skills and levels of expertise. They help businesses, farms, and factories fill workforce gaps at all levels of the labor market, allowing companies to meet market demands and expand their operations, which leads to more job creation.

“As we see the state continue to grow, the need for workers in industries like healthcare and hospitality will continue to increase,” said Mo Kantner, Director of State and Local Initiatives at New American Economy. “By recognizing the unique range of skills that foreign-born residents bring, Hawaii is making an important investment in its future.”

Hawaii’s immigrant population is diverse, growing in number, and is a major contributor to the region’s economy. They emigrate from the Philippines, Japan, China, Korea, Micronesia, and other countries seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Key findings:

  • Immigrants in Hawai’i hail from a diverse range of countries. While nearly half of the immigrants in Hawai’i are from the Philippines (45.8%), the rest of the top ten countries of origin for immigrants are quite varied: Japan (8.4%), China (7.8%), Korea (7.0%), Micronesia (4.6%), Vietnam (3.9%), Mexico (2.2%), Marshall Islands (2.2%), Canada (1.6%), and Hong Kong (1.5%).
  • In comparison with other U.S. cities of similar size and demographics, Honolulu struggles to provide policies that support immigrant integration. Looking at NAE’s 2020 Cities Index, Honolulu ranked 95th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities in terms of policies and socioeconomic opportunities that support immigrant integration.
  • Immigrants are vital to industries and occupations that are essential to Hawaii’s economy.  In 2018, despite making up 18 percent of Hawaii’s population, immigrants accounted for nearly 40 percent of agricultural workers, and 33 percent of the workers in the tourism, entertainment, and hospitality industry.
  • Immigrants are job creators. In Hawai’i, immigrant entrepreneurs – those who work for their own businesses, incorporated or not – are making their mark locally. Immigrants accounted for over a quarter of all entrepreneurs in the state, making them 24.4 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs than their U.S.-born counterparts.
  • Immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born residents to NOT have health insurance. Despite accounting for 18 percent of the population, immigrants accounted for over 31 percent of residents in Hawai’i that did not have health insurance in 2018.
  • More than half of the immigrants in Hawai’i are naturalized, and many immigrants are likely eligible to naturalize.  Over 56 percent of immigrants in Hawai’i are naturalized U.S. citizens, and over 40,000 immigrants are likely eligible to naturalize, which would allow them to access a greater variety of jobs that may require citizenship, and increase their likelihood of starting a business.

The full report, “Immigrants and Migrants in Hawaii: Essential Contributors to the State’s Workforce and Economy,” is available here.

About New American Economy

New American Economy (NAE) is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization founded to educate, empower and support policymakers, influencers, and citizens across the country that see the economic and social benefits of a smart approach to immigration reform. NAE has created a coalition of civic, business, and cultural leaders who span the political spectrum and represent all 50 states. Visit to learn more.

Hawaii Star Wire

Press releases, media advisories, and other announcements submitted to the Hawaii Star.

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