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Report estimates Guam's economy decreased by as much as 18.9%, propped up by $1.6B federal aid

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Report estimates Guam's economy decreased by as much as 18.9%, propped up by $1.6B federal aid

EMPTY CROSSING: Tumon's famed crossing, which is Guam's version of Japan's Shibuya Crossing, is empty on Dec. 6, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic upended Guam's tourism, resulting in some 27,000 displaced workers who applied for federal pandemic unemployment assistance. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Claret Ruane

Claret Ruane

Guam’s economy declined by as much as 18.9% last year compared to 2019, a new economic report estimates.

The island's economy would have shrunk 42% to 49% without the infusion of $1.6 billion in financial assistance from the U.S. government, the report estimates. That would have been worse than what occurred during the Great Depression in the United States between 1929 and 1933 when the economy contracted by 25%.

The “2020 Guam Economic Report” was released Wednesday by economics professor Maria Claret Ruane and a team of faculty, students, and alumni from the UOG School of Business and Public Administration.

The estimate foreshadows Guam’s real Gross Domestic Product figure for 2020, which may not be released from the Bureau of Economic Analysis under the U.S. Department of Commerce until late 2021 or early 2022.

“Guam’s real GDP for 2020 … is expected to decline, which would reflect the economic impact of this COVID-19 pandemic to include the decimation of tourism and the resulting loss of output, income, employment, and tax revenues in other sectors of Guam’s economy,” the report states.

The decline in Guam’s economy compared to 2019 is based on the following factors:

• Guam’s 76% decrease in tourism from 2019, as reported by the Guam Visitors Bureau, which the report estimates resulted in a loss of local income and spending of $1.38 billion; and

• The $1.38 billion loss from tourism was more than offset by the $1.6 billion Guam received in various forms of federal assistance through the CARES Act.

The authors calculated the unemployment rate to be 19.8% using one approach and 26.6% using another. This supplements an official unemployment rate released by Guam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for June 2020 of 17.3%.

The authors calculated that household spending decreased between 30% and 50%, while business spending decreased 50% to 70% in the absence of federal assistance.

Crisis in self-identity

The report notes that the pandemic has been a “wake-up call” for the island to reduce its reliance on the tourism industry and that the pandemic highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of Guam’s relationship with the United States.

“The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 is not just a health crisis. It is an economic crisis and a crisis in self-identity,” Ruane said. “Although the relationship with the U.S. may have limited the island in its response efforts toward COVID-19, Guam received funding and aid from the federal government, which mitigated the economic impact. All factors must be considered when discussing self-determination.”

The report states that “an independent Guam characterized by a weak tourism industry and a lack of new local industries to diversify our current economic structure would [have forced] us to learn to live with much less material security and opportunities than our current relationship with the U.S. affords us, even more so during this pandemic.”

Delayed availability of economic data

The report notes that the authors could not reference some of the typical primary sources of economic data due to limited or delayed availability. Instead, the team used media reports and educated assumptions based on best practices to produce their own estimates.

“I commend Dr. Ruane and her writing team for producing one of the first reports to analyze the impacts of COVID-19 on our economic landscape,” stated Annette T. Santos, dean of the School of Business and Public Administration. “Though faced with limited access to data, the authors — most of whom are students — were able to produce a resource that we hope provides significant public value.”

About the authors

The “2020 Guam Economic Report” is co-published by the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration and the Omicron Delta Epsilon International Honor Society for Economics – Alpha Chapter of Guam. It was a collaboration among faculty Maria Claret M. Ruane and Leila C. Kabigting; students Celia J. Anderson, Nathaniel J. Dela Cruz, Kamerin M. Guerrero, Steve Eric S. Terlaje, Laarnie D. Vinca, and Mary Catherine Wiley; and alumni Grace C. Donaldson and Prairie Rose Garrido. 

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