• By Ken Leon Guerrero

Guam’s future wears hot pink magic slippers

Guam’s future is 17 months old, 27 inches tall and living large. Her mother watches patiently as “Future” wanders around the reception area introducing herself confidently to perfect strangers.

Make no mistake; mom may only be about 5 feet 4 inches tall and very petite, but the aura she projects is that of a 9-foot tall, 2,000-pound mother grizzly bear on guard duty.

“Future” is the next generation of Guam’s children, who have a rough road ahead of them.

As “Future” wanders around, she is not aware of the fact that unless things change dramatically, her generation will be the first generation that will not be healthier than her parents’ generation as the rates of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac illness continue to climb. Her generation will not live longer than her parents’ generation.

Dad comes into the office with all the charm and facial expressions of a Samurai warrior in full battle armor as he does a risk assessment of the crowd in the reception area. Satisfied no dangers lurk nearby, he baby-steps as he follows “Future” around the reception area as she continues to explore and meet new people.

Soon “Future” demands a toy from the “magic pink” backpack being carried by the Samurai warrior. As they start to play a secret game known to only the two of them, the Samurai warrior transforms into a giant teddy bear (still dressed in armor). They laugh and play. A smiling mother grizzly watches them play — not lowering her guard for a second.

“Grizzly Mom” calls grandpa letting him know when she will bring “Future” over. She is lucky that her extended family is involved helping raise “Future.” A growing number of Guam households are multi-generational as the cost of housing and rentals makes it hard for younger people working in low wage service sector jobs to find affordable housing.

Unless things change dramatically economically on Guam, “Future’s” generation will not have the quality of life her parents’ generation has.

The cost of living on Guam right now is very high and climbing at double digit rates annually. Currently, it takes a base wage of $27.63 per hour for a family of four to cover the basic needs, including rent, utilities, food and transportation. With Guam’s tourism-based economy, very few jobs offer $27.63 an hour forcing many people to hold down multiple jobs, and apply for one r more of the public assistance programs like WIC, SNAP, MIP or Section 8 housing just to be able to cover the basics of living on Guam.

A look at two-bedroom apartments show that rents in the Tamuning area start around $1,300 a month. For people working in low wage service sector positions, it often takes one job to pay the rent, a second job to pay utilities and a third job to pay for everything else. Many younger people unable to find affordable housing are putting off getting married or starting families citing lack of affordable housing as the reason.

As “Future” plays with the Samurai, she’s not aware that unless her grandparents own a lot of land, she will probably not be able to buy a house on Guam by the time she gets married. At the rate housing costs are going up, it is more likely that she will either leave Guam after graduation for greener pasture or join the military.

Guam’s economy is rapidly following the path blazed by Hawaii’s economy starting in the 1970’s as their tourism industry took off with the advent of “cheap jet plane airfares.” Guam’s tourism economy benefits from an increase in discount seats subsidized by Guam Visitors Bureau, as the agency works to bring more tourists to Guam.

Along with the growth visitor counts is a corresponding growth in the number of low wage service sector jobs as new hotels come on line. Tourism industry jobs are mostly low skilled and low waged, and a lack of labor unions keep them that way.

There are several reasons why the cost of housing is rising almost as fast as the housing cost in Honolulu. The lack of new and affordable units being built is keeping the supply low. This is because many developers are building higher end luxury rental units targeting the very generous military housing allowance. Another reason for shrinking supply of affordable rentals is the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal’s (GHURA) demand for rental units in desirable locations to meet the growing demand for qualified Section 8 clients. Many landlords/owners find it easier to deal with GHURA as the client instead of a person with several jobs who periodically makes late payments on the rent.

Leasing rental units to GHURA reduces the number of affordable units for the working poor who don’t qualify for Section 8 programs.

Unless things change dramatically at the government policy level, by the time “Future” enters the workforce there will be very few middle-class jobs available. If she wants to get married and have a family, she will have to decide between having several low wage service sector jobs, joining the military, or moving to the mainland where there are more employment options and better “quality of life” living options as well.

“Future” and others like her is the reason why, we as adults, need to fight harder to get control of the legislature and start introducing policies that will help improve the quality of life on Guam. Unless we take control of our government out of the hands of professional politicians and politically well-connected insiders, the little girl I enjoy watching explore the reception area will be Utah’s, or Arizona’s, or South Carolina’s future.

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

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