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Worker shortage hinders economic recovery

Mary Rhodes, president of Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, discusses the tourism industry's post-Mawar struggles at the Guam Chamber of Commerce Business Recovery summit on July 7. Juan Flores, administrator at the Department of Labor's American Job Center, looks on. Photo by Dana Williams

By Dana Williams

As Guam’s hospitality industry struggles after a major typhoon and three years of Covid-19, managers are facing a major barrier to recovery.

“We have had a very difficult time bringing people back to work," said Mary Rhodes, president of Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Rhodes, speaking at the Guam Chamber of Commerce Business Recovery summit on July 7, said there are a number of reasons why employers can’t find workers.

Census figures show the island’s population has decreased, and potential workers continue to leave Guam.

“We've seen a lot of employees leave for other opportunities, maybe not necessarily better opportunities, but other opportunities,” she said. “And U.S. markets are being very aggressive in their hiring processes because they're giving bonuses.”

A June 9 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that nationally, companies have been faced with “unprecedented challenges trying to find enough workers to fill open jobs. Right now, the latest data shows that we have 9.9 million job openings in the U.S., but only 5.8 million unemployed workers.”

Some of those companies have come to Guam to recruit, offering higher wages, transportation and other benefits.

Other would-be workers have chosen to go to school.

But 40 percent of the 123,110 potential civilian workers on Guam - 49,740 people - were simply not participating in the workforce as of December 2022, according to the most recent figures from Guam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although 415 of them did not look for work because of “family responsibility,” the rest were listed as people who “did not want a job during the survey period.”

A September 2022 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce concluded that government benefit programs that were started during the pandemic have discouraged Americans from returning to work.

Rhodes has seen a similar situation here.

“What used to be a program for those really in need has become commonplace,” she said. “And that's well, social welfare programs, like financial aid or SNAP or benefits.”

Rhodes suggested crafting a system where social welfare programs can support people who are going to school and working in an apprenticeship program.

“We have to work with the government to understand the bigger picture of the economic impact and the social-economic impact it's making into our industries,” she said.

“There are so many industries, not just tourism, so many industries that really need employees,” Rhodes said. “And I know that our unemployment number is better than most places right now. But that's because that unemployment number does not include those who do not want to work.”

Non-participation in the labor force was a problem on the island before the pandemic – throughout 2019, a year with record tourism arrivals, there were 50,763 people sitting out of the workforce, according to Guam labor statistics.

Both Rhodes and Juan Flores, administrator at the Department of Labor's American Job Center, said a future Disaster Unemployment Assistance program is unlikely to hurt the island’s labor market.


Flores said the program, which is being launched in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is not as generous as the PUA program was.

“It’s not a whole lot of money, $380 a week,” he said. And “nobody gets that money unless the employers verify that they were not able to work or they lost their jobs because of the disaster. So it's not because you didn't have daycare, and it's not because school stopped, it's not any of these issues.”

Under PUA, which paid more than $900 a week in combined federal and local benefits, many people could make more money by not working than they could being employed.

Flores said he has been doing research on unemployment programs, and he has found “that is the single biggest concern in most states and territories about unemployment insurance, is that it's a deterrent to employment.”

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