SPECIAL REPORT #30
 
Why Young People Don't Want to Live in Hawaii
 
November 22, 2010
 
"We can really understand why young folks don't want to live in Hawaii. There's just nothing to do here!" We hear this all the time. We even hear it when we tell folks that our own kids, four young adults all in their 30s, don't want to come visit, have no interest in being in Hawaii and for sure would never want to live here. "Nothing to do here" is always the reason.
 
We do have some trouble trying to figure out why not even one of our kids likes it here. Seems like a lot of city folks really don't much care where they live as long as they have a job. My son's reply is that he needs to live where the money is. He lives in the SF Bay Area, a place that enjoys one of the highest costs of living in the country. But even the fact that he could live comfortably here on half of the salary he's getting now won't inspire him to consider living here. He graduated from high school here and almost immediately left for SF, and "the money." He loves that kind of energy.
 
Another of our kids just likes it over there where it's only five minutes to a bewildering assortment of fast-food places, and of course the malls. The grandkids love the malls.
So what, exactly is there to do here for young folks? Well, we know a few of them quite well and all they wish for is more hours in the day so they could do even half of all the stuff they're into. For those interested in nature, science, oceanography, biology, comparative cultures, art, theater, or any number of myriad outdoor activities, there is no end of opportunities for things to do. For outdoor-inclined people, the recreational opportunities seem to us, anyway, to go far beyond what's available in most mainland places.
 
Employment? It's long been a fact of life here than if you know how to do anything well and have some integrity and a passion for what you do, you will have more work than you can handle. The caveat is that if you're looking for a straight job, maybe one like you left behind on the mainland, you might be looking for a long time. The thing that is needed here is skills. Labor is cheap here and there's lots of it available. The people who do remarkably well here are those who can find a need and fill it. If you have any amount of entrepreneurial spirit and a good work ethic, you're in.
 
I first came here when I was in 1972. I was 35, and I was one of those who knew with my first breath of Hawaii air that I had come home. From that day on, I have never, ever felt like my activities were limited by my Island Life. I did move back to the mainland three years later and didn't come back for good until 1993. The reason was that in '72, I was living on Oahu where the cost of living meets or exceeds all of the rumors we hear about the insane cost of living in Hawaii. I made several trips to the Big Island in those days, but never stopped to check on housing prices there. I assumed that hey, it's all Hawaii, so it must be about the same there. Had I stopped to ask, I would have never gone back.
I was living in a tiny house on the Windward side of Oahu that was for sale for $90K.
Back then, it might as well have been $9 million as far as my finances were concerned. The business I had going on then fell apart and I could no longer afford to live on Oahu, so I went back to California, then on to Oregon, where I stayed until 1993. It was on the way home from a trip to New Zealand when my flight stopped over in Honolulu and I decided to delay the mainland leg of the trip a few days so I could visit a friend on the Big Island.
 
Turns out, this friend's sister was a Realtor. She was at my friend's house when I got there and of course, as happens when one talks to a Realtor, the talk got around to real estate. I related the above sad story to her and she told me about how you could buy a nice house here for around $100K. I said, "Yeah, right,"
 
She asked if I would like to see a few the next day and I said sure, so the next morning she showed me five places priced from just under $100K to about $150K. I was BLOWN AWAY!
 
One of these homes was a beautiful five-year-old home on a beautifully landscaped acre of tropical forest. It had a 500' long, curvy, palm-lined driveway going up to a turn-around in front of the house. In back was a 1200 sq. ft. shop! I'm a shop kind of guy all the way. I bought the house right then and there, and two months later I was living there. Awesome!
 
The thing that's hard for me to get my head around is the perceived distinction between what young people want to do and what older people want to do. One of the things I've always loved about living here is that there seem to be no real boundaries between young and old, rich and poor, or even all our different cultures. Go to just about any event here and everybody is represented. At the beach, kayaking, cycling, hiking, theater venues, dance classes, cultural events, Harley clubs, churches, art classes, even university classes, everybody is represented. Age doesn't matter.
 
We have lots of wonderful theater happenings here and it is so good to see "actors" of all ages, from two to eighty-two (literally) on stage. Every weekend all our many beach parks are filled with happy beach-goers. There are families, college kids, old folks, really old folks, and of every skin-color we can come up with here. And you know what? Everybody gets along! Everybody shows respect for others. Everybody takes care of each other. It is like nowhere else I've even been.
 
So what to these young folks who are so terminally bored here "do" on the mainland? About the only things I hear about are huge concerts, lots of choices in pubs and night-life venues, and of course, the ability to jump in the car and drive to anywhere in the country.
 
But then when we ask some of these folks, uh, like our kids, what have you done in the last year that was something you could not have done here, we get mostly that they're so busy working overtime to pay the bills that there's no time left for anything else.
Well, as I pointed out in the entire chapter in the book devoted to the topic, Hawaii is definitely not everyone's paradise. It is my feeling after all my years here that it isn't age that matters. Some love the feeling that is pervasive here, to others it simply doesn't work. To me, sweet little Hilo Town reminds me every day of my old home town of Berkeley, back in the sweet, gentle 50s when I was fortunate enough to have been raised there. From that upbringing, I got used to living among all kinds of people. To me, living on the Big Island, where everybody is a minority, feels right. When I visit the mainland where I am among about 90% Caucasians, I feel out of place; out of my comfort zone. To others, it is just the other way around.
 
And this is good.
 
There are the visitors who say they could not live here because they like going to the opera. When I ask when was their last opera experience, they say, it's more about being able to go than actually going. Well, if you're going that infrequently, then do an Island hop and go to the opera in Honolulu. It's a big deal there.
 
Whatever.
 
Another item some folks say they miss is being able to go to any number of shopping malls. We have a big mall here in Hilo; the only one on the Island. I avoid it like the plague. Way too mainland for me, and I'm not alone in that feeling. The mall is mostly deserted because, this is my feeling, people prefer to go to stores for what they want rather than walk down the sterile hallways of a mall listening to canned music.
The bottom line is that I do not believe age to be the determining factor in whether or not there are "enough things to do" here. The young people who thrive here and would live nowhere else are testament to this. They are fully involved, participating in their communities, and having the time of their lives. There are just as many old folks who are out of their comfort zone here.
 
To thrive here, you have to feel good in a society where people care about each other. It is expected of you to give back to your community, to participate and be a part of it all. People here will stop in traffic to let you into the flow. It is just a part of life here. It's never the "me first" attitude pervasive on the mainland. It's called aloha.
 
People help each other out. Elders are respected by everyone and not shuttled off into a home and forgotten. They remain a viable part of the family and of the community. When someone takes a spill on a sidewalk, the first one to get there helps out. Others help out. It would never happen that somebody could take a spill and passers by would just pass by pretending they didn't notice. It's called aloha.
 
It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor here. In the first place, usually nobody would ever even know, because it is so not part of the culture to demonstrate one's position in life by sporting around in an expensive car or in expensive clothes. Sure, there are some here who do that, but in most cases they are the recently-arrived folks from the mainland who haven't yet figured it out. Here, you'll get to know a neighbor who drives an old rusty pickup and maybe ten years later you'll find out somehow that this guy is a Ph.D. of considerable wealth. It was never important to him to let you know. Here, it's what is real that counts, not what you wear or drive.
 
OK, this is rambling a bit, so I will close with a recap of my original thought: Age is not the determining factor in whether or not one will be at home in the Islands. There are young folks here who every moment of the day feel blessed to be here. There are old folks here who feel the same. There are young and old folks who wouldn't live here if you paid them. Fortunately for everyone, they usually don't stay long and the rest of us get to buy all their great stuff at the garage sale when they leave.
 
Aloha Nui Loa!
Skip
 
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You are also welcome to check in to the Affordable Paradise Blog and respond to this article and to talk story about your concerns. You can read some of the many postings there and learn from the conversations of others, too. You can also go on konaweb.com and punaweb.org and either participate in the discussions or just eavesdrop for a while!
 
We wish you all the best, and never forget to
~~~~
Please Live Aloha!
 
Mahalo for "listening."
Skip Thomsen & Ohana
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Updated 8/25/2010