Things Are Looking Up — Or Not

No doubt about it, things are looking up, in part because Hawaii’s unemployment rate is going down. In April it sank to 4.9 percent, tying it with Oklahoma for eighth lowest among the nation’s 50. The only states showing better numbers have low populations and are either fracking themselves to death in the quest for black gold (the Dakotas), feeding corn to pigs (Iowa) or tapping maple trees (Vermont).

The stock market soars to all-time highs; the Dow’s been over 15,000 for the past week or so, thus alleviating the fears of many old codgers like myself that our retirement funds will continue to … well, fund us.

The tourists keep coming. Read the numbers and prepare your hurrahs – 769,047 of them in March. That’s 7.6 percent more than arrived in March 2012, a pretty good month and year in their own right. These good people spent some $1.3 billion on hotel rooms, rental cars, suntan oil, libations and shave ice. That’s 7.8 percent more than tourists spent in March 2012.

It constitutes one-third of a first quarter tourism bonanza that saw “moderate” (Mainland U.S., Japan and Canada) to “significant” (Oceania, Other Asia, Europe and Latin America) growth.

The result? Smiles on the faces of Hawaii’s elected officials that grow broader by the day. Think of all those tourists staying for an average of 10 days – for nine or 10 nights of which they pay a Transient Accommodations Tax of 9.25 percent. Think too of the state excise tax of 4 percent, Oahu’s 0.5 percent more for that ^%#+@& train if you live in East Honolulu or on the Windward side, “blessed” if you live Leeward. Think various gas taxes. Then you’ll understand.

Most of all, resolution has been reached on the most talked about issue of the day: “Warriors,” “Rainbows” or “Rainbow Warriors”? Confronted by thunderous criticism from old alums, University of Hawaii athletic director Ben Jay backed off his directive that “Rainbow” would be struck and “Warrior” left standing. “Rainbow Warriors” and “Rainbow Wahines” it will be. Smart man, that Jay, particularly for knowing when to beat a retreat.

So all is well, looking up to be sure. Maybe, and maybe not.

If you watched the Today show’s live broadcast from Waikiki 10 days ago, the program’s producers used their first taped package to remind the nation of our blemishes: the $6 box of cereal on our grocery store shelves, the half-a-million-dollar average price for a Hawaii home, Honolulu’s second-worst-in-the-nation traffic. The list went on.

They did not mention the young people forced to leave Hawaii to find a livelihood on the Mainland or the households in which multigenerational families work a half-dozen service jobs in order to make the mortgage payments and buy those $6 boxes of cereal. Or our ever-growing homeless population and our Third World potholed roads.

To be fair, Today had only three hours, and its primary objective was to showcase Hawaii and keep those tourists coming. But tourism, vital as it is to Hawaii’s economy, distorts it terribly. It translates Hawaii to the world as sun, sand, surf and little else.

Leave it to a liberal to stare at the clouds on a bright, sunshiny day.