top of page

Gas or Groceries?

Ever heard of choose your own adventure books? You know the ones where the reader chooses different storyline options to get different endings depending on what’s chosen? Many Hawaii households who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed, or ALICE, are regularly faced with the difficult decision of choosing what basic necessities to go without to prioritize others. ALICE households are those which earn above the federal poverty level but still find themselves unable to cover all of their basic needs. According to the most recent study done by, 1 in 3 households in Hawaii are considered ALICE. Although these households don’t get the fun of adventure books, they are regularly faced with making difficult decisions of choosing one hardship over another such as: buying groceries or putting gas in the car, paying the electric bill or going to the doctor, paying the rent or affording childcare. Each choice creates a different outcome that often worsens and causes further financial strain in the future.

Take for instance the decision to pay rent over childcare for a minimum wage earner in Hawaii. In order to pay the average childcare cost for one infant, which is $1,100/month according to the Economic Policy Institute, a minimum wage worker would have to work 34 weeks at full-time to afford the annual cost of childcare for one infant! Additionally, in order to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in Hawaii, a minimum wage worker would have to work 149 hours in a week! The pandemic puts further strain on many ALICE households as the Economic Research Organization at University of Hawaii states that 10,000 residents have fallen behind on rent since the start of the pandemic.