The government of the Guam is like the Titanic – big, overcrowded and sinking fast. The attitude of Capt. Lou Leon Guerrero and her officers, as demonstrated by their actions as the ship takes on water, is one of greed as they grab financial life jackets (pay raises) and push their way to the lifeboats, first leaving the decks crowded with women and children and no hope.
I say this amid the recent news about outrageous pay raises for the new agency directors, the newly reinstated deputy directors, and other top executive managers. In the meantime, escalating costs of living on Guam drive more families, particularly women and children, into poverty.
GovGuam doesn’t keep statistics on the growing poverty levels of our people, because they might be so high as to shame our politicians into doing some of the right things to improve the financial security of the people, instead of working to secure their financial futures and those of their politically well-connected insiders.
But we know the poverty numbers.
• 34% of our population receives SNAP benefits (food stamps)
• 45% of our population is covered by Medicaid or the Medically Indigent Program
• 11% of our households are receiving housing aid of one form or another and the waiting list is very long
And the military recruiters on the island have no trouble exceeding quotas as every month more of our children, desperate for a future that has hope, leave home for decades.
Hawaii is the canary in the coal mine for Guam. Everything good or bad that hits Guam, hits Hawaii first.
In Hawaii, 37% of households are at the poverty level that qualifies them for SNAP benefits, and 11% of their households also receive housing assistance of one form or another, and large numbers of Hawaiians join the service to escape being trapped into a life of working poverty.
Research shows that 48% of Hawaii’s households suffer varying degrees of poverty, which research benchmarks define as having no savings, living from paycheck to paycheck, unable to pay all their bills due in the month, and unable to pull together the financial resources to deal with a $400 emergency.
As I was driving past a medical fundraiser car wash, it hit home for me how much those benchmarks describe the working poverty conditions endured by many families on Guam.
Research in Hawaii documented that 62% of the employees work in low-wage service sector jobs. Statistics released by GovGuam show that 65% of Guam’s employees work in low-wage service sector jobs.
In Hawaii, 44% of senior citizens are struggling financially. When I go to fast-food restaurants where it seems nearly half of the crew consists of senior citizens, the same statistic seems to hold true on Guam.
In Hawaii, 22% of young adults (ages 18–25) struggle as they try to break out of poverty, driving the growing trends of multigenerational households, delays in marriage, and delays in having children. Hawaii’s young are joining the military in record numbers, or leaving the state for better opportunities and a lower cost of living elsewhere. A fact confirmed as outmigration exceeded immigration two years in a row.
The most disturbing statistic of all is that 76% of Hawaii households in poverty have children, and 62% of Hawaii households in poverty are single-parent families. Most depressing to me, is that 82% of single-parent families in Hawaii are headed by the mother, according to the U.S. Census.
I am fairly sure, since every other statistic from Hawaii matches up to a statistic in Guam, this one would too, if it existed. I am not sure that any agency has made the time or effort to track such information, and since no one answers the phones at the Department of Public Health and Social Services, we’ll probably never know.
I point out these statistics to show where all these highly paid directors and politicians should be focusing the efforts of their “public service” instead of working almost exclusively on bettering their own lot in life, and the lives of their politically well-connected insiders.
If this administration and agency directors had been the captain and officers of the Titanic, the orders from the bridge after hitting the iceberg would have been, “Women and children last!”
Ken Leon-Guerrero is the spokesperson for Guam Citizens for Public Accountability.