Hawaii’s population continues to grow, according to census figures released yesterday, but the statistics only tell part of the story. About 150,000 more people live in the state than when we were last counted in 2000. Hawaii’s growth rate of over 12 percent is faster than the national average of under ten percent.

The state’s total population is 1,360,301. That ranks Hawaii as the 40th most populous state, up from 43nd. The census also shows an increase in the population density in Hawaii at 211.8 people per square mile. However, Hawaii’s rank of 15th in the nation in population density is the same as it was in both 2000 and 1990 – so it is unchanged relative to other states.

While these numbers are important for many things, including apportionment and funding, they also show the limits of averages. Hawaii’s population is concentrated in Honolulu, which numbered 907,574 in the previous census. In very round numbers, that leaves less than half a million people scattered across outer Oahu and the other islands. The density average is relatively meaningless here: it’s urban or not.

For visitors, that means if you want a more rural, relaxed Hawaii vacation, aim for areas outside Honolulu. However, most of us have at least one attraction on our list that is based on Oahu. That brings me to a second impact. Hawaii enjoys a much higher level of recreational, cultural and educational features than it would based solely on local population. The annual influx of tourists is what makes such fabulous restaurant dining available, among other amenities.

I’ve lived in towns with a population of 900,000 and they are not nearly as cosmopolitan as Honolulu. Not so many museums, restaurants and not nearly the nightlife. Honolulu seems like a much larger city than its population would indicate, when compared with other states. The true story of Hawaii, both for visitors and local residents, is told when census numbers are combined with visitor numbers.


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