The Jones Act

The Jones Act
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Brief history of The Jones Act and it's impact on Hawaii.

• General: Educational • General: History

Those who haven't spent any time near the sea may never have heard of the Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Even though it may be unfamiliar to some, to others, it's an act that makes their lives safer and more secure. It was created in order to give sailors and sea workers more protection, protection they'd never had prior to 1920. The Jones Act is said to be one of the most important US marine acts in existence, but it isn't without its criticisms. Find out exactly what it is, how it helps, and what problems is causes along the way.

Why Was The Act Introduced?

Before the year 1920, working conditions for those at sea were often poor. Workers would have very few legal rights, and would work in dangerous conditions for low pay. The introduction of foreign ship workers to the global market made this act's existence even more important. Because those from abroad would work for a fraction of the price, the American ship workers faced total wipe out.

Nowadays, the Jones Act seeks to continue to provide protection to American sea workers and aims to minimize accidents that occur due to unsafe conditions. While the US shipping industry can't compete on a global scale because of the Act, those that have jobs know that they're relatively safe because of it.

The Jones Act And Foreign Workers

To help protect US sea workers, the Jones Act seeks to reduce the number of cheap laborers working in American waters. To transport goods within the US, 75% of a ship's crew must be from the country, and most of the ship's upgrades and repairs must be carried out by Americans.

Because of the Act, the American shipping industry lags behind most other nations', as it's unable to utilize cheap labor. The minimum wage in America is still much higher than it is in other countries, meaning there is no way for US companies to compete with other operations on price.


Because of the high shipping costs associated with the Jones Act, some places find transporting goods to be too expensive. Because of its pacific location, Hawaii is one of these places.

Hawaii shipping costs are several times more expensive than normal because of the distance to the islands from mainland America. This has led to a lack of industry in Hawaii, and arguably, a weak economy. Some lawyers argue that Hawaii should be exempt from the Jones Act, similar to the way the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are. Despite lawsuits to change the Act, Hawaii remains at the mercy of these steep costs. For more on these the cost of living in Hawaii, be sure to read Hawaii Living: The Paradise Tax.


While the Jones Act is extremely useful for protecting a section of America's workers, it's not without its limitations. Many argue that it does far more harm than it does good here in Hawaii.

States such as Hawaii look to continually argue against its unfairness, but so far, the government doesn't seem willing to listen. For the time being, these states and territories will have to stimulate economic growth in a way that is less reliant on shipping. Of course, this is far easier said than done.