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By Edwin Tanji

HONOLULU, Hawaii (December 29, 1999 – Honolulu Advertiser)---Hawaii was among five states to see a decrease in population in fiscal 1999, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today.

While the country’s population will have grown nearly 1 percent this year to a total of 274 million as of Saturday, Hawaii’s population was down 0.4 percent from 1,190,472 in July 1998 to 1,185,497 by July 1999.

Local economists said the decrease is the result of the lagging state economy and people leaving to find jobs in other states. Since 1990, Hawaii has recorded a net loss of nearly 100,000 residents to other states.

Two University of Hawaii economists said there is concern whether the state can reverse the trend by creating a positive economic climate when population numbers suggest Hawaii is not seen as a place for opportunities.

According to Census estimates, 20,112 more residents left the state than moved to Hawaii in 1999, while the number of people from other countries moving to Hawaii also fell.

State economist Pearl Imada Iboshi said the estimates include changes in Hawaii’s military population this year. The number of military personnel is reported to be down about 5,000, she said. That could account for the net loss of 4,975 people in Hawaii in the Census report.

But she agreed with other economists that "the population is very much affected by economic conditions."

The numbers must be considered significant for Hawaii, said James Mak, associate professor of economics at the University of Hawaii. A net loss of nearly a half percent is a large number when compared to previous years when the state’s population was growing at about 1 percent a year, he said.

Any analysis also needs to consider what is happening in the different demographic areas, he said. When Hawaii has been losing residents to other states for several years, a downturn in the number of people moving here could suggest that the weak economy is making Hawaii less attractive and immigrants are going to other states instead, he said.

Since 1990, Hawaii averaged 6,432 immigrants every year. In fiscal 1998, the state showed a net of 6,432 immigrants. In fiscal 1999, the number dropped to 4,721.

The other four states that lost population in 1999 were West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and North Dakota.

The Census report clearly indicates that people are moving to states seen as having healthy economies. The states showing the most growth were in the Southwest and South Atlantic, with Nevada leading with a 3.8 percent increase in population, Arizona with a 2.4 percent increase, Colorado up 2.2 percent and Georgia up 2 percent.

California remained the most populous state at 33.15 million, with Texas second at 20 million followed by New York at 18.2 million, Florida at 15.1 million and Illinois at 12.1 million.

Imada Iboshi said there is potential for a turnaround, with forecasts indicating growth in the state’s economy, including increasing numbers of visitors to the Islands in the last year and higher state tax collections.

Andrew Mason, chairman of the UH economics department, said the shrinking population can be a concern if it represents a loss of capable workers and talent.

To some extent Hawaii’s economy is dependent on "external factors" such as the economic health of areas that provide visitors to Hawaii, he said. "But to the extent we need to develop new industries and businesses, that requires talented people," he said. "And if those people find, for whatever reason, that this is not the place to start a business, or to develop new ideas, whether it’s because of economic factors, or because of regulatory restrictions, it doesn’t help the state."

Mason said he personally has to deal with concerns about Hawaii’s economic conditions. He has two daughters, both about to enter the job market from college.

One studying dentistry in San Francisco reported a professor at her school warned, "Hawaii is the worst place in the country to start a practice." The other, about to earn her degree, is interviewing all over the country for jobs. "In other parts of the country, it’s a great job market right now," she said.


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