Ken Leon-Guerrero

Ken Leon-Guerrero

There will be no shortage of people willing to fight against a minimum wage increase, fearing cuts to their profitability, and yet these same people have no problem with prices that go up every month that cut into the ability of workers to sustain themselves and their families. Here are just a few of way too many examples.

1. Insulin pen needle prices in the past year have gone up 75%.

2. Fast-food combo meal prices in the past year have gone up 25%.

3. A medical procedure that cost $1,000 in 2018 costs $1,320 today, up 32%.

4. A two-bedroom apartment that rented for $900 two years ago, rents for $1,150 today, up 27%.

The chairman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce, Joe Arnett, thinks training people for higher-paying jobs is a better solution than raising the minimum wage. The problem with training people for higher-paying jobs on Guam is there aren’t any.

A "GuamJobsOnline" job search lists 56 jobs and 15 (27%) are considered skilled/technical or managerial. An "IndeedOnline" job search lists 86 jobs and 11 (13%) are considered skilled/technical or managerial. A "GuamHire.com" job search lists 441 jobs and 31 (7%) are considered skilled/technical or managerial.

So anyone who graduates from advanced training relocates to the mainland to use his or her new higher-level job skills because Guam’s economy isn’t geared up to support a strong middle class. Proof that Guam’s economy can’t support a strong middle class can be seen if the high failure rate of returning residents who often return to the mainland unable to make a go of things here on Guam.

A medical technician took a huge cut in pay returning to Guam from the Bay Area of San Francisco, thinking his high levels of skills, advanced certifications, and years of experience would allow him to earn enough money for a quality life on Guam. He was wrong and has since returned to the Bay Area, followed by his parents, who don’t want to live an ocean away from their grandchildren any longer.

A software programmer moved back to Guam from Silicon Valley thinking that his decades of experience in writing code would be in demand on Guam and he would be able to have a good quality of life. He learned that many Guam companies subcontract out software coding to the Philippines or India. Unhappy serving as a network technician and doing data entry, he returned to Silicon Valley.

A legal secretary with years of experience returned to Guam to take care of her aging mother, thinking she would be able to get a job and a comparable wage and benefit package locally; she was wrong. She ended up working for her previous employer remotely as a contract hire with no benefits until her mother passed away. She then returned to her former job in Baltimore.

The problem for workers on Guam is the basic economic law of supply and demand. Guam businesses create about 1,000 low-wage jobs each year. Guam’s educational system graduates 2,500 new workers each year. The lack of higher-paying jobs is why Guam’s military recruiters are No. 1 year after year, not even having to break a sweat to achieve and go over quota.

The second problem for workers on Guam is location. Guam is 5,000 to 7,000 miles from the hot job markets of California, Utah, Washington and Texas, making it difficult and expensive to move where the jobs are. Amazon and Walmart recently raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour, citing competition from other industries and other regions as primary reasons for the increase.

The Chamber, the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, and the Guam Visitors Bureau would like a 10% increase in the number of hotel rooms on Guam. That increase will generate an increase in the number of part-time low-wage jobs with no benefits, just in time for the graduating class of 2020.

If the Chamber is adamant that training for higher-paying jobs is a much better alternative for the 87% of Guam’s employees stuck in low-wage service jobs than raising the minimum wage, will the Chamber be willing to fund it, since taxpayers are strapped supporting the existing job training machines known as the Guam Department of Education, Guam Community College, and the University of Guam?

If the Chamber is willing to fund the higher-value skills training, are they going to be OK watching the newly trained people take their higher-value skills to communities that have high-value skilled jobs available?

Ken Leon-Guerrero is spokesperson for Guam Citizens for Public Accountability.

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