HILO — Hawaii Islanders like to say they don’t just live on the Big Island; they live on the best island.
The data seems to be backing that up, at least according to population movement. While people continue to leave Oahu, dragging the entire state’s growth rate into the negative zone, people are still moving to Hawaii Island, according to estimates released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some 1,480 more people lived on Hawaii Island on July 1, 2018, than the year before, bringing the total population to 200,983, according to census estimates. The 0.7 percent population growth, a slight downtick from the o.9 percent average since 2010, was still the highest in the state, as was the nine-year growth of 8.4 percent.
The population boost compares to an increase of 804 in Maui County and 353 on Kauai, a 0.5 percent increase for both. The City and County of Honolulu lost 6,349 people, or -0.6 percent, bringing the state population down by 3,712, or -0.3 percent.
The population figures are important. They’re used to determine political representation, federal funding allocations, for community development and to aid business planning, in addition to other uses by the Census Bureau.
The vast majority of new Hawaii County residents, 1,232, moved here from somewhere else, according to net migration figures, the difference between those who moved in and moved out. Most of those migrants, 904, moved from elsewhere in the United States, while the rest moved from outside the nation.
In contrast, 10,114 people left Oahu between 2017 and 2018. Most of the people leaving went elsewhere in the United States, while 2,885 moved to Oahu from international locations.
The numbers are no surprise to Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim. He attributes the migration increase to affordability. The median price of a home on the Big Island is less than $400,000, about half the price of homes on the other islands.
“It’s the dream of owning a place and building a home,” Kim said. “While the middle class can do that here, on Oahu, Maui and Kauai, that’s no longer possible for the vast majority of people.”
Kim said he doesn’t expect last year’s volcanic eruption to have much of an effect on population figures. The county’s preliminary counts show that Puna residents not only didn’t leave the island to escape the lava flow, many of them didn’t leave Puna either, just moved to a safer place.
The Census Bureau says it’s too early to tell what, if any, effect the May 3, 2018, eruption and subsequent lava flow had on population.
“We are accounting for housing units destroyed by the volcano, but this will have no impact on the population,” Amel Toukabri, chief of the bureau’s Local Government Estimates and Migration Processing Branch, said in an email response.
“Typically, the county estimates would pick up people moving due to disasters through our net domestic migration component but because of the timing of the event in May 2018, the domestic migration for that disaster will not be reflected in the IRS data until next year’s estimate,” Toukabri said.
A count of the entire population is undertaken once every decade, with the next one due in 2020. In between, the Census Bureau estimates annual population, based on vital statistics, tax returns, Medicare enrollment and Social Security databases.
In the coming months, the Census Bureau will release 2018 population estimates for cities and towns, national, state- and county-level housing unit estimates, as well as national, state and county population estimates by age, sex, race and Hispanic origin.