“I’m leaving on a jet plane. I don’t know when I’ll be back again. Oh babe, I hate to go.”
Those were the lyrics of a popular song that recounts a heartbreak that sometimes follows one of life’s most difficult changes – moving away from home.
Last issue we looked at how changes may affect “Future,” a little girl starting her journey toward adulthood. She wonders what circumstances will influence her choice to either stay or leave Guam when she is ready to leave home to strike out on her own.
In this issue, we look at how senior citizens are dealing with the same problems through the lens of the “law of unintended consequences,” which states that actions of people and governments always have unanticipated or unintended effects. I bring up this often ignored economic law and its effects as a result of the conversation I had at a chance breakfast meeting and the grumbling that ensued as we lamented that the price of “senior coffee” has doubled in two years.
There are many challenges connected to the “unintended consequences” of the property, business privilege and fuel tax increases. One of them has been driving up the costs of living on Guam, and another is driving a local couple to start the process of leaving Guam for a new home in (of all places) St. Louis, MO.
This may not be a new trend for Guam, but it is starting to tear apart the fabric of the extended family tradition that was once so strong and made living on Guam so special. For lifelong residents, leaving Guam is hard. Leaving family and friends is hard. But for some people, the financial struggle to stay home close to family and friends is harder.
For this couple, the financial reasons for leaving Guam (in order) are:
The challenges of living on Guam on a fixed income. The prices they pay for everything are going up while their income is not. The decrease in the purchasing power of their retirement income has resulted in a corresponding decrease in their quality of life. When grocery shopping, they buy marked-down merchandise and generic food products.
For most other items, they shop either at discount stores or online. Instead of dining at restaurants, they dine at fast food outlets when they do eat out. Their car is 14 years old. They can barely afford the costs to repair it, and definitely can’t afford the payments to replace it. And without an effective public mass transit system on Guam, they are travel limited.
While on a trip to see the grandchildren, they carefully compared the cost of living in Missouri to the cost of living on Guam. They estimate that by moving to St. Louis they will see a 40 to 50 percent increase in the purchasing power of their fixed income dollars. By renting out their house on Guam, they will receive a $600 a month increase in their disposable income (after calculating their mortgage payment and the cost of rent and utilities for a St. Louis apartment), which will dramatically improve their “quality of life.”
The cost to stay connected to the children and grandchildren. All three of their children left Guam after graduation. Their extended family has been extended to the continental United States. Their youngest child attending college in Southern California, and they have grandchildren stationed at Scott AFB near St. Louis MO and living just outside Dallas, TX.
Living in St. Louis will make it financially possible to visit both the children and grandchildren as often as they like instead of once every couple of years, with airline tickets around $300 apiece instead of $1,500 apiece.
The cost and access to medical care. With ailments that come with aging and chronic diseases, they want better access to healthcare resources. All the news stories about the challenges facing both GMH and GRMC have caused them concern as senior citizens with healthcare issues. They are worried that if they have health emergency they will not be able to get the care they need without having to fly to the Philippines or California. Their limited income does not make medical air travel possible without taking out a loan against the equity of their only asset – their house.
They feel that moving to St. Louis will provide them with healthcare options and stability they don’t feel is available to them on Guam. With more than 61 major hospitals and medical centers serving the greater St. Louis area, and another 154 within a 400-mile radius (8-hour drive/one hour flight) of St. Louis — which includes the cities of Kansas City Missouri, Chicago Illinois, Memphis Tennessee and Evansville Indiana — you can understand why they feel that way.
There are a lot of things our leaders can do to improve the quality of life on Guam and make people resist the temptation to leave our island forever. To start with, roll back the tax increases. Our elected leaders can do it and they should do it. Tax rollbacks won’t bring prices down that much, but it will slow down the growth of government. Consequently, it will help arrest inflation on Guam.
They could aggressively collect all taxes that are slipping through the current system. With increased tax collections, the government must invest in technology to improve the whole government of Guam information and financial system.
The question is, do politicians have the political will to do what’s best for all the people? Or will they continue to nurse along the existing systems that, through their inefficiency, benefit only the politically well-connected insiders?
With elections coming up this year, we have another opportunity to change out the politicians for genuine public servants. The only question is, do we, voters, have the political will to do so?
Ken Leon-Guerrero is the spokesperson of Guam Citizens for Public Accountability. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org