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  • By Ken Leon-Guerrero

Financial troubles tarnishing paradise

minimum wage

Living in a tropical paradise is hard as costs continue to rise, while wages continue to stagnate.

Recent surveys conducted nationwide by the Federal Reserve Board, and locally Guam Citizens for Public Accountability on “quality of life” issues that revealed four main issues Guam’s politicians need to address.

The first issue is income. A report released by the U.S. Department of Labor shows that wages on Guam are substantially lower than comparable positions on the U.S. mainland. The Federal Reserve Board survey detailed that 30 percent of adults nationwide have adjustable work schedules and their take home pay varies from paycheck to paycheck.

Here on Guam, 37 percent of workers report their pay varies for paycheck to paycheck.

With very little opportunity to obtain “middle class” income jobs, which are mostly government jobs, 65 percent of Guam’s employees work in low wages service sector jobs, which for many, require multiple jobs to make ends meet, resulting in a poor quality of family life.

John made a little over minimum wage installing air conditioners. On some days he had a full day of work, but when sales were slow, he was sent home early. To support his family, he worked nights at a hotel, and on weekends he installed air conditioners for cash.

The second issue is ability to pay bills. According the Federal Reserve Board, 20 percent of adults are not able to pay all their bills in the month due.

Here on Guam, things are much worse as 65 percent of respondents claim they have to prioritize which bills to pay, causing them to be in arrears on many of their accounts.

The Federal Reserve Board also noted that 10 percent of working adults need financial assistance from others to be able to all pay bills. Here on Guam, 27 percent of those responding reported the need for help to be able to pay all their bills.

Monica, a single mother of two, is a secretary for a small business. The business offers low wages and no benefits. Unable to move home, because her sister had already moved back with her children, Monica’s parents help her financially by paying her power, water, cell phone bill, and watching her children during the day so she can work.


A little over one third of Guam’s work force are actively looking to relocate to areas with better job opportunities and quality of life.This should be alarming to policy makers because where will the replacements for those leaving come from?


Guam’s low wage-no benefit work environment shifts the many costs traditionally borne by an employee earning a livable income, from the company payroll to the backs of taxpayers. If wasn’t for a variety of taxpayer supported programs such as Section 8 housing, SNAP, EITC, and Medicaid, Monica and her children would be homeless.

The true costs of Guam’s low-wage service economy are the diversion of badly needed tax dollars from public health, public education and public safety to social welfare support. The real sad story is that Monica’s situation is very common here on Guam.

The third issue is the ability to deal with emergency expenses. According the Federal Reserve Board, 40 percent of adults are unable to deal with a $400 emergency expense out of their current financial resources. Here on Guam that number is alarmingly higher as 63 percent of respondents to the local survey claim they are not able to deal with a $400 emergency.

When Monica’s car broke down she was unable to get to work due to the lack of a reliable mass transit system. So she had to take days off work with no pay, worsening her financial stability at a time she needed money most. She borrowed money from friends to get the repairs done, and got a weekend job to be able to repay the loans. What quality of life she had with her children evaporated in the process. She feels a loss of connection as the only time she sees her children is when she is putting them to bed.

The fourth issue is work force exodus. The Federal Reserve did not look into the issue for work force exodus for their report, but this is a real issue on Guam. Based on local survey results where only 51 percent of survey respondents indicated they are planning to stay on Guam.

Currently 25 percent of respondents are doing research and planning to move, while 9 percent of respondents are taking steps to move, and 4 percent of respondents have already made the move.

John had a brother in Utah. John’s brother encouraged him to relocate to Utah, promising financial support and place to stay until he got on his feet. John went to Utah and within a week found a job with a company that sells heaters and air conditioners. John’s income went up substantially and within six months he was established enough to relocate his wife and children to Utah.

If John ever returns to Guam it will be decades from now. So as John enters his prime income earning years, all the tax dollars Guam spent educating John and his wife, will end up generating tax revenues for the state, counties and cities of Utah.

Every time a young adult leaves Guam forever, those who remain become a little poorer. As working citizens leave Guam, the government will be forced to increase taxes and fees on those remaining in order to pay the costs of Guam’s very high government operating budgets and debt service.

A little over one third of Guam’s work force are actively looking to relocate to areas with better job opportunities and quality of life.This should be alarming to policy makers because where will the replacements for those leaving come from?

Not the continental United States.

The replacements for the educated work force leaving Guam are coming from the freely associated states. Many of those coming lack the education, language and skill levels to replace those departing. This changeover will require businesses to spend more money and time on training to bring the replacements up to the speed and skill levels of those departing.

Unless politicians make meaningful changes to Guam’s employment climate, the quality of life will continue to deteriorate, and the exodus of our young will continue to accelerate.

Ken Leon Guerrero

Ken Leon-Guerrero is the spokesperson of Guam Citizens for Public Accountability. Send feedback to

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