Here are some statistics that need to be understood before a conversation on this topic can be had:
1. 88.8% of Native Hawaiians /Pacific Islanders (“NH/PI”) have attained their high school diplomas compared to 92.3% of whites. The gap widens at the achievement of a 4 year degree; 21.5% for NH/PI’s compared to 34% for whites. Then we see an even greater disparity at the graduate degree level where only 6.5% of NH/PI’s hold those degrees and the whites have doubled that rate at 13%.
2. 17.3% of us live in poverty while 10.4% of whites live in the same conditions.
3. NH/PI’s have much higher rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity.
4. The U.S. population grew 9.7% from 2000 to 2010 while the NH/PI population grew 35%. The portion of the NH/PI population that grew the fastest was not “pure” one island group (100% Samoan, or 100% Hawaiian etc.) it was mixed island group ethnicity (half Tongan and half Hawaiian for example).
5. Half of the total NH/PI population in the U.S. (1.2 million) lives in just two states; Hawaii (356,000) and California (286,000).
The fastest growing population of NH/PI’s was in the south.
Those five points mean that we are less likely to have any paper from a college; especially one that reads “Graduate Degree”. We are 70% more likely to live in the hood. We are more likely to drink too much, eat too much and smoke. As a result of this we are far more likely to develop health problems. We are also “less insured” from a health insurance perspective than whites. I don’t point out these statistics to fault white people or in a desire to see any group of people have less. Rather I see these as deficits for the Pacific Islander group to lessen and for us to achieve more. It is important to me to stress this point.
While we are more likely to have the above challenges, as a people we are more likely to have young children at home right now and more likely to have financial hardship. We make less and essentially half of us in the United States live in two of the most expensive states in the country.
These are glaring issues for the Polynesian community that will need to be addressed on many fronts. I want to note one of them and quite possibly the most fundamental issue that sits at the core of the overall problem.
Our population is expanding quickly. From 2000 to 2010 NH/PI population grew at THREE AND A HALF TIMES the rate of the rest of the country. 22% of the overall U.S. population is under 18. In the NH/PI population the under 18 group accounts for 32% of all of our people. This group of young people and their children that come behind it are truly our future. Together, in 20 years this group could account for as much as 50% of our overall population.
The vehicle that the Polynesian community can ride out of poverty and the deficit of higher education is the next two generations. However the FUEL that this vehicle must have is education. While there is great opportunity for monumental growth as a people there is also great jeopardy. The window of opportunity for the population is small and may not present itself in this manner again. Put in plain English; we have an opportunity with the next generations that may not present itself again. Ever. We have to get this right.
Look at what has happened to the black community:
• In 1950, 72 percent of all black men and 81 percent of black women had been married. Now the percentages show 32% of black men are or have been married and 48% for black women.
• Every census from 1890 to 1950 showed that black labor force participation rates were higher than those of whites. Now blacks have the lowest participation rate.
• Prior to the 1960’s the unemployment rate for black 16 and 17-year olds was under 10 percent. Blacks 16-19 are now unemployed at the rate of 27%.
• Before 1960, the number of teenage pregnancies had been decreasing; both poverty and dependency were declining, and black income was rising in both absolute and relative terms to white income. Now black teenage pregnancies are the highest of any group and poverty and dependency have reached epidemic levels.
• In 1965, 76.4 percent of black children were born to married women. Today 72% of black babies are born out of wedlock.
The path of the black community has been well documented and there are events and aspects of their journey that we can, and need to, learn from.
The two pieces that our “Future” needs to be supported with is the family structure and education. The destruction of the family unit was a key piece to the direction the black community went from the late 1960’s to today. The War on Drugs was largely responsible for the removal of the black father figure. This took away a second income, the completion of the husband / wife dynamic and the male role model from the black family. Polynesians foster a familial and community environment in the home and this can be extremely beneficial for our young adults to have grown up in. The education must be promoted at all costs. Speaking to the importance of gaining a college degree is easy to do. I went back to school at the age of 38 to finish what I had started 20 years earlier. Having the degree was far more important to me in terms of what it conveyed to my triplets than it was for me to earn more money. In fact, I don’t think I have earned any more money from a salary standpoint as a result of gaining my degree. It did speak directly to my children of how important education was to me.
We need to find the role models that have a strong sense of family, value education (formal or otherwise) and get the young generation to realize just how pivotal and key they are to our entire population. We can learn from the successes and downfalls of other people. Think about the “Baby Boomers” for a second. People born between 1946 and 1964 are the Baby Boomers. They have essentially made up one-third of the U.S. population and they have driven entire industries as they aged. Baby centric companies like Gerber were tiny until the Boomers showed up. Then baby products were a booming industry. Then the construction industry went wild for decades as schools and homes had to be built for one-third of the U.S. population. The fast food industry was born out of the need to serve food quickly to groups of people far bigger than the restaurant industry had seen before. Then the investment industry was next to ride the bubble of humanity. Insurance became the first trillion dollar industry. Now we hear far more about retirement, social security and health care because the Boomers are aging and need medicine and money for retirement. The Boomers drove entire industries as they went through stages in their lives because of huge population bubble
The 18 and younger group ALREADY make up one third of our Pacific Islander population in the U.S. In 20 years they may make up FIFTY percent. These amazing young people are the vehicle to transform our people. Finding positive role models and showing them examples of success is going to help them understand how powerful they can become individually and as a generation. If you are a young adult reading this, understand how you can change the world and lead the Pacific Islander population out of the deficits by simply making yourself better. You can change the five points that are listed at the beginning of this post. If you are an old person like me reading this, be a positive role model for the young ones in your life. We are ALWAYS on stage. We lead by our actions whether we want to or not. The younger generation watches what we do and how we live our lives. Find a young person that may not look to you for leadership. Inspire them, support them, help them, and love them. They are truly the defining generation for us and our future.