top of page
  • By Ken Leon Guerrero

The last days of the Guamanian Dream

There was a time on Guam when each generation was better off than the previous one; they were better educated, wealthier and healthier. In the space of one generation we are seeing a reversal of those trends as we began electing politicians over leaders. Politicians are concerned about the success of the next election while leaders are concerned about the success of the next generation. We are seeing signs of long-term damage to the “Guamanian Dream” caused by politicians.

Education is failing our children. Children are Guam’s leading export. Every year, 1,500 more students graduate from Guam’s education system than our economy creates jobs for. That means our children have to be ready to compete on the world stage for opportunities not created for them on Guam. Our education system needs to prepare them for the challenge and it’s not there yet, despite every politician’s claim that “Guam’s children are our future,” our education system is in trouble. Our schools are falling apart as a result of decades of ignored maintenance.

Politicians and the politically well-connected insiders look at the massive funding requirements to bring the school systems buildings into the 21st century as the last big pork barrel. During the last days of the Calvo-Tenorio administration DPW executives tried to award an Indefinite Date/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to rebuild Simon Sanchez High School to a company that never built anything before. Had they been successful, tens of million dollars would have been added to the cost of the school.

We don’t need politicians who claim education will be a priority on the campaign trail. We need leaders who will make educating the children a priority during their term in office.

Guam’s poverty driven economy. Guam’s economy is in recession. The number of middle-class jobs declines every month, while the number of low-wage part-time jobs continues to climb.

We have an asymmetrical employment situation where more students graduate than jobs created every year, which keeps wages artificially low. Even the U.S. Department of Labor notes that all jobs on Guam pay substantially less than jobs on the mainland. A fact reported over and over again by people who relocate to the mainland and see a tremendous improvement in income, and quality of life.

The government’s own numbers show there are 101,000 unique jobs on Guam, and 65,034 workers show that many people are forced to have multiple jobs to make ends meet because 87 percent of the jobs that pay less than $40,000 a year. The majority of the people working in fast food outlets are 30 years old and older trying to support families on part time minimum wage jobs, because even with multiple income streams 60 percent household have annual incomes less than $50,000 a year.

The number of cars on the road 10 years and older is growing as people can’t afford to replace them before they absolutely have to.

A survey done by the Federal Reserve Board documented the fact that nationwide, 20 percent of households have to juggle bills to pay them, and 40 percent of households can’t handle a $400 emergency out of their existing financial resources. A similar survey on Guam documented that 62 percent of households can’t pay all bills when due, having to juggle payments; and 66 percent of households can’t handle a $400 emergency out of their existing financial resources.

But with politicians at the helm, the number of multigenerational households is growing as young people are priced out of the rental markets by the double-digit rent increases every year, while their wages stagnate. The number of young workers entering their peak earning (and taxpaying) years relocating to the mainland is increasing; so is the number of retirees who are also relocating and taking their retirement incomes and money from the sale of Guam assets with them.

Healthcare crisis escalating. None of our politicians are talking about the rapid decline of the health of our population, even though that decline is slowing down the growth of our economy as more money gets diverted to healthcare from economic investment.

In the space of two generations the leading cause of death on Guam shifted from accidents and infectious diseases to noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer. In 1954 the number of NCD patients was less than 2 percent of the island’s population. Today every family has family members suffering from one or more of the NCDs. The major cause for this change is the very sedentary lifestyles, obesity and obesity’s co-morbidities that have combined to shorten the lives of the next generation. Yet, we never hear politicians discuss plans to address this problem.

We need leaders who are concerned that 75 percent of the population does not have adequate healthcare coverage. Leaders willing to consider implementing universal healthcare coverage laws like Hawaii did in the 1970s that resulted in 93 percent of residents have coverage, and the lowest medical cost inflation rate in the United States.

Changing course changes outcomes. With politicians at the helm, the SS Guamtanic is heading for disaster at Puerto Rico proportions, and it will affect every aspect of our life. It is too easy to blame this situation on politicians, but it would be more accurate to blame the voters because we are the ones who elected them and didn’t hold them accountable for not keeping their campaign promises. As a result of such political apathy, the life lived by our grandfathers— a good job and retirement, a house with a white picket fence, and children that had a better life than theirs— is no longer possible for a majority of people living on Guam today.

The only way we can even begin to get this ship back on the course sailed by our grandfathers is to get mad at the politicians who lied to us. Then get even by replacing them with a new crew. We need to keep doing that until we have replaced all the politicians with leaders. Then we may see the return of the American Dream.

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

bottom of page