Q&A: Economic update from Beth Giesting, director of the Hawai’i Budget and Policy Center – State of Reform

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Beth giesting is the director of the Hawai’i Budget and Policy Center (HBPC), a public policy research and analysis program at the Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. Giesting’s work highlights the intersection between healthcare and policy, with a focus on their impacts on low-income and underserved communities in Hawaii. This month, Giesting published an analysis of “pandemic recessionWhich details the nuanced impacts of COVID on Hawaii’s labor market, affordable housing and different communities.

In this Q&A, Giesting updates State of Reform on the effect of the pandemic on the state economy, the housing crisis in Hawaii and its role as a social determinant of health, and key elements to withhold from the state budget.

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Nicole Pasia: With the Delta variant upping the business in Hawai’i, how is the pandemic affecting the state’s economy? What could be different now than in the first few months of the pandemic?

Beth Giesting: “[In] In recent months, the unemployment situation has been quite different from that of last year. Unemployment was very high last year in all places of food and services: hotels, entertainment and food services. And since tourism started to return earlier in the summer, they are no longer very represented in the unemployment figures …

Now, I don’t know if you can say that all the people who lost their jobs last year are now employed, because the number of jobs that were lost in the economy is still quite high. I am really concerned about the proliferation of COVID because of the Delta variant. We are seeing higher numbers than we have ever seen in the last year. And the governor is trying to discourage tourism. So many people who have just returned to work may be out of work again. And I’m also concerned about what can happen with schools. If things stop, women are again disproportionately unemployed because they are caring for children. “

NP: How could soaring unemployment have a disproportionate effect on some communities?

BG: “People with low incomes are the most likely to be laid off first. And they are the least likely to have a safety net. So they will take out high interest loans using credit cards, if they do not have a loan or asset sale, can become homeless, maybe move into more conditions. overcrowded. This is not a good situation, of course. And low-income people are always more affected by recessions and take much longer to recover …

One thing i think [HBPC is] still worried about [is] racial and ethnic equity as well. And the people who disproportionately occupy these low-income service jobs are also, disproportionately, Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, and Native Hawaiians. This will therefore keep them in an economic impasse, much more than other groups. “

NP: What long-term effects do you see the pandemic having on people’s employment prospects?

BG: “Some of the concert work that people were doing, part-time work, I think that’s definitely something to watch out for as well. On the one hand, it offers people [with] more flexibility, especially with a second job. But these jobs, of course, don’t come with any benefits and tend not to pay particularly well. And for part-time work, in particular, people don’t necessarily have the flexibility to organize their hours as they would like. Thus, they may not be able to take on other work or do something else that they want to do, such as going to school and furthering their education …

Hawai’i of course has prepaid health law so people who regularly work 40 hours a week usually get [health insurance] coverage… But if your hours are reduced, they increase and decrease. You may not have health insurance. And that is definitely a problem. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act can be a safety net, but it’s never as good as having someone else pay for your benefits.

NP: Speaking of funding, how successful do you think the state budget is in providing pandemic relief?

BG: “What I found a little questionable is the disproportionate amount of money available to the state that the legislature has invested in the UI trust. Basically, the private sector employer trust fund has received over $ 800 million over two years to repay. So I think that could have been a bit too much, especially considering that there are so many other needs that people have that I think the state hasn’t spent particularly generously, [such as] some of the relief efforts.

People are still struggling, and communities are still struggling, to have enough food to eat. Paying the rent – it’s just mind-boggling what’s going on with our housing market right now. I know it’s the same across the country, but Hawai’i had such a low inventory of affordable housing to begin with. And it only got worse. As housing for sale has become more expensive, this has an influence on rental housing. If you sell your home, you can evict your tenants. And there just isn’t a place to go for tenants.

NP: Where would you like to see more funding?

BG: “Part of the money that [the legislature] set aside to pay off the unemployment trust, I’m just wondering… if some of that money can be used to provide higher unemployment benefit, if needed, to low-income workers who lose their jobs again. Honestly, there could still be money because some of the things that the legislature had planned to spend ARPA money on were not for proper purposes. They want to pay off the debt service. So they couldn’t do it without this funding …

The thing that [HPBC is] always push is the adequacy of housing. And I really think we’re approaching an emergency just because our inventory is being picked up by people who don’t even live here…

If we invest further upstream, we would have a slower health care inflation rate. Of course, we know there are a lot of factors as to why we have such an expensive health care system in the United States, but at least there’s definitely a connection there, you know, if chronic disease is all kinds are more common among low-income households, and housing is the biggest financial burden most households have.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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