GDOL: Guam's unemployment hits record high
The economic massacre caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has left 13,850 Guamanians jobless as of December 2020, according to the Guam Department of Labor.
The labor department said Guam has reached its highest rate of unemployment at 19.4 percent, an increase from September’s 17.9 percent and December 2019’s rate of 6.1 percent a year earlier.
The number of persons not in the labor force increased as well.
Most of the employees affected by the pandemic are those working in the service sector that drove the tourism industry.
“Much like Hawaii, a large share of our economy is tourism-related. Hotels and anything that relied on tourism declined due to the pandemic. But because almost all of our tourists are international, recovery is more complex,” said Gary Hiles, Guam Department of Labor chief economist.
Most Guam businesses suspended operations during the Covid-related lockdowns imposed by the government last year. While some companies resumed business when Guam moved to PCOR3, many have shuttered their doors permanently.
Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the labor department said pandemic-related job losses began to be reflected in the March 2020 job numbers which declined somewhat in tourism-related industries.
From March to June 2020 an additional 5,870 private sector additional job losses occurred. By September 2020 the rate of private-sector job loss declined for the quarter to 2,270 but the total losses increased to 7,980 and the average weekly hours paid decreased from 36.2 to 31.1 over the year.
The largest job reductions by industry through September 2020 are in retail trade 3,440, hotels 2,800, all other services 1,530 and transportation and public utilities, 900.
The labor department said employment began a partial rebound in December 2020 with employment increasing by 990 jobs and average weekly private-sector hours paid from 31.1 to 32.9.
Construction is the only industry to show growth over the year increasing from 7,350 to 8,330 jobs in December 2020.
In February, labor officials said the department had another $181 million in federal funds loaded into the payment management system to continue batching and paying unemployment claims. For Pandemic Unemployment Assistance $97 million was available in the account, and another $84 million was available for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.
Guam’s PUA weekly benefit amount (WBA) remains at $345 a week and the FPUC provides 11 weeks of an additional $300 weekly benefit on top of the $345 PUA WBA to eligible claimants.
Despite the high unemployment rate, however, officials are upbeat about the island's economic recovery.
"Businesses had to adapt and it’s evident as we see more food and commodity delivery services, curbside pick-up and ready-to-go meals," GDOL said in a press release. "The entrepreneurial spirit has come alive and these new adaptations will probably continue to stay with us beyond recovery."
The Department of Revenue and Taxation said records from April through September 2020 showed that more businesses opened than closed in 2020. During those months, DRT issued 1,459 new business licenses, while 451 canceled their business licenses.
“We’re seeing a restoration of employment in some industries in addition to construction. The Guam Department of Labor’s recovery efforts through the National Dislocated Worker Grant program also created new jobs for hundreds of individuals,” Labor Director David Dell’Isola said.
“We will be shifting this grant money toward up-skilling and retraining opportunities to in-demand occupations as our service providers open up classrooms and start to offer programs," he added.
Government officials acknowledged that Guam still has a long way to go, but they are confident that with plans to curb the spread of Covid-19, the island will achieve a level of recovery.
"The economy will continue to improve as restrictions are eased, more people get vaccinated and as the confidence in public safety grows. Guam will see the largest impact when the tourists and the industry return," the labor department said.