Making the Numbers on Molokai

Picture of Molokai

By: Lokelani Wilder

Making the Numbers is Molokai slang regarding the benefits of remaining unemployed so one can collect welfare. The Numbers referenced in this slang phrase deals with having babies and welfare money.  On Molokai, average incomes have long been well under the statewide figures, and unemployment numbers have often nearly doubled the statewide rate.  Nearly a third of families there use food stamps—twice the rate on Maui and triple that on Oahu. Because of its unusual level of welfare dependency, the island was one of a handful of U.S. communities granted exemptions to welfare reform laws during the Clinton administration. 

Welfare exceptions enable Molokai residents to receive as much as $60,000 annually.  This figure does not count additional funding for medical, dental, and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC, a.k.a. food stamps).   Welfare families receive additional funding for having children with step increases guaranteed for up to five children.  Were a man or woman to enroll in college or become employed, the welfare money stops.  On Molokai, welfare recipients have no requirements to show the government that they are actively looking for a job in order to receive the money. 

If a nuclear Molokai family has less than five children, Molokai teens are pressured to have the second thru fifth kids, sometimes while even in high school.  Upon birth, the infant grandchild becomes a dependent of the greater nuclear family and the teen goes off to college.  In most cases, the teen will simply stay and have more children.  The way things currently stand, welfare regulations make it much more lucrative for the teen to discontinue education, shun searches for employment, and have babies.