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UH report paints bleak picture for state’s economy as Maui struggles to recover


HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Hawaii will continue to see slow economic growth as Maui struggles to recover from last year’s devastating wildfires, University of Hawaii economists say.

The latest UHERO report paints a bleak picture of the state’s economy, especially on Maui. It is estimated that about 4,000 people have left Maui over the past year, devastating local businesses.

Business is slow at Mala Ocean Tavern on Front Street, which reopened in February. Owner and Lahaina resident Javier Barbieri says local families are leaving, unable to wait for government help.

“One of my managers is moving to the mainland at the end of the summer, so we will lose her. She says it’s because housing is so difficult. I can’t keep moving, and I’m moving my child and my husband over and over again,” Burberry said.

With Hawaii residents paying higher prices for food and goods than other parts of the country, workers are finding it difficult to survive.

Maui wildfire disaster

“We have raised our inflation forecast to more than 4%,” Bonham said.

UHERO says the state’s population has been declining since 2018 and he expects the situation to get worse on Maui.

Since the fires, Maui has lost 5,000 jobs — a drop of about 6%. Nearly half of them worked in tourism-dependent industries, which have slowed to a crawl.

“20,000 visitors a day for an entire month, spending $200 a day, that’s a lot of money that doesn’t exist in a Maui economy,” Bonham said.

“If you don’t have the 15,000 visitors who are used to being there, on the islands, spending money, you know, eating out, it’s going to be hard to get those food service jobs, and it’s going to be hard for those workers to get back to work,” he said. “

The state’s workforce is down 15,000 people from pre-pandemic levels — hurting Hawaii’s overall economic growth.

Other factors to consider: upcoming changes to the state’s tax structure and county housing inventories.

“As we phase out short-term vacation rentals, we will see impacts on home prices, impacts on rents. But we will also see impacts on all types of jobs,” Bonham said.

However, UHERO economists are optimistic, pointing to an additional 3,000 jobs on other islands and a coming construction boom.

“It could be a lot worse,” Bonham said.

Barbieri is hopeful, too. He wants officials to get grants to Lahaina residents quickly so they don’t have to leave.

“I think we are a beacon of hope for a lot of people and they have seen us reopen. “There are a lot of things that keep us going every day,” Barbieri said.

Other takeaways from the UHERO report: The impact of the looming insurance crisis on our real estate market. Higher insurance premiums would further dampen economic growth.



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