Friday, May 18, 2007

Hawaiian population grows but leaves isles

Ranks of Hawaiians grows on the mainland, shrinks at home

While native Hawaiians increased in population nationwide, their numbers have decreased in the Aloha State in the past several years.

California is beginning to rival Hawaii in the total number of native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

Hawaii also has experienced an increase in Micronesians, who have unrestricted entry into the United States, under a Compact of Free Association signed by Congress.

The state has been paying more in health and education benefits to Micronesians than it has been receiving from the federal government.

Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders arrived at a milestone in the United States, reaching 1 million in population nationwide, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau released yesterday.

The largest population increase of native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders last year occurred in California with 3,400, followed by Texas with 2,000 and Florida with 1,500, according to estimates released by the bureau.

Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders rose in population nationally by 1.7 percent or 17,000 from 2005 to 2006, the bureau said.

Meanwhile, in Hawaii the group's population decreased by more than 1,300 from 2005 to 2006, according to the state data center, which provides statistics to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"They are moving to the mainland," said Eugene Tian, chief of the state statistics branch.

Tian said in the last six years, the estimated native Hawaiian population in the state has decreased from 282,656 in 2000 to 274,766 in 2006.

Tian said the population might be a bit higher because federal estimates do not take into account the higher birthrate among native Hawaiians.

Hawaii continued to have the largest number of native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, totaling 275,000 out of a total Hawaii population of 1,285,498, followed by California with 260,000 and Washington state with 49,000.

Observers note that the population of native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders was younger, with a median age of 28.6, compared with the national median of 36.4.

About 30 percent of the native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander population was younger than 18, compared with 25 percent of the total population.

Hawaii led the nation with a population that was 75 percent minority in 2006.

The state faces some major challenges in providing health and education to a growing number of islanders from Micronesia.

From the 2001-02 school year to the 2006-07 school year, the number of Micronesian students increased by close to 58 percent to 3,337, according to the state Department of Education.

Department spokesman Greg Knudsen said that under a Compact of Free Association, residents from various Micronesian nations are able to reside in Hawaii and the rest of the United States.

Knudsen said Micronesian children are generally less prepared to enter Hawaii public schools and face the challenge of acquiring English language skills.

He said while the state has received money from the federal government to assist Micronesians, the funds have not gone in the past several years to providing education for Micronesians.

Based on the number of Micronesians living in Hawaii, some $10.5 million in federal funds has gone to the state Department of Human Services to pay for their Medicaid expenses.

"It's a drop in the bucket, and we really need more," said department Director Lillian Koller.

Koller said the $10.5 million is barely enough to pay for three months of Medicaid.


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