Hawaii wants to pay you $50,000 to move to paradise

Love the beach?  Love to teach?  Hawaii wants to talk to you.  The Aloha State is looking to fill 1,600 teaching jobs asap, and they are paying what seems like good money – good money, that is, unless you live in Hawaii.  The details of this opportunity provide a great reminder that when it comes to building wealth, it’s not what you make; it’s what you keep.

At first blush the Hawaiian Department of Education jobs look pretty sweet.  The average elementary school teacher working in the islands makes $50,000, with those right out of college starting at as much as $35,000.  There are also signing bonuses, including $3,000 for qualified special education teachers.  And, come on!  It’s Hawaii — birthplace of the laidback sun, surf and sand lifestyle we all mourn at the end of our annual week at the beach.  What’s not to like?

Don’t do it!  It’s a trap!

OK, that’s a little overstated.  But this opportunity really isn’t for everyone.  Let’s break it down.  First, why exactly is Hawaii looking for 1,600 teachers?  Partly, it’s demographics.  The state’s baby boomers are retiring in droves.  But there’s a uniquely Hawaiian issue at work, too.  The state’s education workforce has a very high turnover rate, in part because teachers lured from the mainland frequently bug out after just a few years in paradise.  According to the state’s Department of Education, 40% of mainland teachers return home within five years.

That revolving door is likely powered by two things.  Hawaii’s remoteness may prompt a sense of loneliness and longing for distant friends and family.   But the state’s insane cost of living almost certainly prompts fears of poverty.

Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the U.S., indexing at 163 compared to the rest of the states. The median home sale price was $518,000 in 2014.   Rents average $2,000.  A loaf of bread or a dozen eggs will runs about $4.  Dinner and movie will cost you about $75.  Gasoline currently averages $2.62 a gallon compared to $2.11 nationally.  USAToday calculates that you need to earn about $122,000 to live “comfortably” in Hawaii.   While “comfortably” is a very subjective term, $50,000 is a very long way from $122,000.

What’s more, that $50,000 average salary is pretty unremarkable on the national scale.  In fact, it’s slightly below the national average of $54,000 for elementary school teachers.  Many mainland systems pay significantly more than Hawaii.

So, should you consider chucking it all to go shape young minds in the middle of the Pacific?  Maybe.  A stint in Hawaii would be a unique way for a young person to advance their career while expanding their horizons.  It might also provide a re-energizing experience for a mid-career educator.  But the financial downsides can’t be ignored.  When it comes time to build for the future, the wisest teachers will settle down in a more affordable place – hopefully close to the beach.

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