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Honolulu & Anchorage among top wage earning areas

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Honolulu wages 4% higher than national average

Source: Honolulu Advertiser

Honolulu workers earned 4 percent more than the national average last year, although the higher wages were likely eroded by the state's high cost of living.

Those in Honolulu's service sector and professional fields did better than the general workforce, raking in 7 percent and 6 percent more pay respectively, according to a report released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, Honolulu paychecks still lagged behind major urban areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York. For example, Honolulu workers earned approximately 1 percent less than those in Seattle, and 3.7 percent less than workers in San Diego, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition, most, if not all of the added pay garnered by local workers was likely offset by the state's high cost of living.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," said Hawai'i Pacific University economist Leroy Laney.

Nearly everything costs more in Hawai'i because of the state's geographic isolation and relatively small population. That's partially compensated for by intangible benefits such as a high quality of life, Laney said. As a result, Hawai'i wages don't have to match Los Angeles or San Francisco to attract workers from those cities, he said.

"Hawai'i capitalizes on its ambience, it's lifestyle and the fact that it's a pretty, pleasant place to live," he said. "So many people who come and stay here are willing to take a lower wage. If Hawai'i was in a less pleasant place, we probably would have to pay more to attract people."

Jeff Merz, a senior planner at Honolulu-based Oceanit Laboratories Inc., agreed that wages in Hawai'i are relatively good. Merz moved to Hawai'i 3 1/2 years ago from the Miami area.

"When you compare salaries to Nebraska or Mississippi I can see how it would appear to be higher than the national average," he said. But, "Whether you're buying eggs, milk or gas, it seems you're paying a little more for everything.

"That erodes any gains you may have over the national average."

At the same time, Hawai'i's moderate weather and relaxed pace of life compensates for the high cost of living, Merz said.

"I could probably earn a higher wage in certain markets on the Mainland, but my life in Hawai'i is good right now," he said.

Ian Kitajima, marketing manager for Oceanit, said the company offers wages that are competitive with most Mainland markets. However, wages in major cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles invariably are higher. That forces Oceanit and other local employers to tout Hawai'i's high quality of life when trying to lure workers from those cities, including former Hawai'i residents, to the Islands.

"What we're offering is the ability to come back home," Kitajima said. "What price do you put on that?

"The pay may be higher or lower but the net effect is the better quality of life."

Only one occupational group in Honolulu

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