Saturday, March 12, 2016

Guam can't vote for president, but it still has clout

The one thing to know about Guam is this: Its residents can't vote for president. Despite the fact that one-in-eight of its residents have served in the military
There are about 45,000 registered voters on Guam. 
Guam does send delegates  to the national party conventions. Guam Republicans just selected its delegates. For that reason, the national candidates pay attention to what Guam does. 
Guam will send nine Republican delegates to the convention. There will be 2,472 delegates at the GOP convention, which means Guam makes up .4% of it.
But in a close contest Guam is important enough, delegate wise, to have prompted Donald Trump to phone into the Guam GOP convention and make a pitch for support. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The cost of Guam’s unemployment level

Guam’s unemployment rate, at about 7%, is near its historic low. We’re getting close to another annual update of the island’s employment situation, and there’s reason to believe that these levels will be maintained. But we're not here to celebrate.

Guam’s economy is dependent on three things: The number of visitors to the island, the military presence, and the size of the government's payroll. The size of the government and the U.S. support for the island are interrelated. But the military build-up is another matter.

The U.S. will relocate some 5,000 Marines and 1,300 family members to the Guam, over the next few years. The military owns one-third of this 212 square mile island, and a major part of the island can’t be developed because of its steep terrain.

The island's economic development is constrained by resources and population. It is extraordinary difficult for Guam to achieve sustainable development, if you define that as creating enough jobs to support the population without despoiling the environment. Let's see why.
Source: Guam Bureau of Labor Statistics
First, there aren't enough people on Guam to support a diverse economy. Guam's major employers are the government, state and federal, and tourism-related. Guam's working population is roughly 63,000 out of 175,000, residents.

There's not much to compare Guam with, but consider Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has 3.5 million residents, and roughly 45% of its economy is based on manufacturing, with another 20% in the financial services sector. About 8% work for the government.

But on Guam, manufacturing accounts for about 3% of the island’s economy, and fully 25% of the island’s employment is government payroll, local and federal. The other large employment sector is tourism and retail. Health care and other service occupations make up the rest. Guam is not an exporter of goods and services.

The second major issue is cost of living. Job growth from the buildup will put pressure on housing. Prices may rise faster than incomes.

The unemployment rate will likely remain below 10% for a time, at least through the construction phase of the build-up. Much of the buildup long-term job growth will likely be in relatively low-wage, service sector jobs with incomes that aren’t keeping up the cost of living on Guam.

Guam already has an affordability problem.
According to the Guam Housing Corporation (GHC), a modest size home on Guam (3 bedroom 1 bathroom house) ranges between $65 to $90 per square foot. The average price tag to build a simple home on Guam, excluding the price of land, connection of utilities, sewer, water, power, etc. costs approximately $ 78,000 to $150,000. Low to mid-level rentals range from $900-$1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment or condominium and $1,200 to $1,700 for a three-bedroom house.
If you live on the mainland, especially on either coast, these prices may seem affordable, but not for the typical wage earner on Guam.

There are, for instance, only 570 people on Guam who work in computer and mathematical occupations, with annual mean wage of $47,690, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This pay rate is well below mainland wages for similar work, except, perhaps, in rural areas.

But Guam has plenty of service-sector jobs. There are, for instance, 6,200 employed in food preparation and serving alone. The mean wage is $18,270.

With few exceptions, such as health care, jobs on Guam pay well less than $50,000, and that makes Guam residents particularly susceptible to housing price increases.
Source: Guam Bureau of Labor Statistics
Wage levels are unlikely to change all that much with the buildup. Island employers will likely quickly import workers. Island residents may be competing for employment with military spouses.

The forward impact of the buildup may already be taking root. There's clearly increasing commercial interest in Guam, especially now that tourism is rebounding as people from Korea, Taiwan, China discover the island. The island's most recent economic development outlook reported near record high construction activity.

In a normal world, economic growth, and decreasing unemployment, is a good thing. People want jobs, and it may encourage more of the native born population to remain on the island. But Guam is not like the U.S. It’s an island, and as distant as one can be from the mainland. It’s a different world with clear limits, economically and environmentally, and it’s worrisome to think about how those limits might be tested in the years ahead.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Guam's economy: This is a really good video about buying local

This video, by Kuam News, explains how buying local delivers many benefits to the local economy. Even if something cost a little more, everyone, in the end, gains. This is great explanatory journalism.

U.S. climate change coordinator for Guam, Marshall, etc., should be on Guam or nearby

The U.S. is hiring a "climate change coordinator" to cover all its islands, and then some. This person will have responsibility for coordinating federal policy as it pertains to climate change, for Guam, the Marshall Islands and others under the Compacts of Free Association. 

This person will be based in Washington, and will occasionally travel to meet with officials of these various islands. This is a mistake. The person picked for this job ought to be working from the islands most affected. 

There is something to the Washington's inside-the-beltway mentality. That's my experience. This area is rich with policy wonks, and discussions always steer in the direction of the big global geopolitical view. This creates distance from the voices of the marginalized, and that includes the residents of Guam and Marshall Island residents and others.  

Since the low lying islands are experiencing the impact of climate change and rising seas firstly, it makes sense to have the climate change coordinator actually stationed in this region. In that way, this person could become attuned to the subtle, and irreversible, adaptations and impacts that island people are dealing with. 

Alternatively, the U.S. could make it a priority to hire someone from one of these islands who could speak to the impacts and urgency of climate change. 

What U.S. lawmakers and policy makers need are people who really understand this issue from an emotional as well as policy point of view. Ultimately, a climate change coordinator will also be an educator for the uniformed and an effective person will also be one who is living with the consequences. 

Job Title:Climate Change Coordinator
Department:Department Of The Interior
Agency:Office of the Secretary of the Interior
Job Announcement Number:OS-KN-15-MM1290203(DEU)


$76,378.00 to $118,069.00 / Per Year


Monday, January 26, 2015 to Monday, February 9, 2015




Full Time - Term NTE 3 Years




1 vacancy in the following location:
Washington DC, DC View Map


United States Citizens


Public Trust - Background Investigation




The Department of the Interior is devoted to protecting and preserving the natural resources of this great nation, including National Parks, Landmarks, and the well-being of communities, including those of Native American, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and affiliated Islanders.
This position is located in the Washington D.C. office of the Department of the Interior (DOI), Office of Insular Affairs, Policy Division. The Office is responsible for coordinating federal policy with respect to the U.S. Insular areas of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and administering and overseeing U.S. Federal assistance provided to the Freely Associated States of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association.

The incumbent of this position works closely with senior management and will have primary responsibility for coordinating Federal policy and implementing national and local strategies in the insular areas to help them plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

This is a term appointment in the competitive service and will be for a period not to exceed 3 years with possible extensions up to a total of 4 years without further competition. Appointments to this position, will not convey permanent status in the Federal service.

Salary Range Information:
GS-12:  $76,378 - $99,296
GS-13: $90,823 - $118,069
* First time hires to the Federal government normally start at the lower salary range of the grade level.
This vacancy is also announced as OS-KN-15-MM1290204(MP) for those applicants who wish to apply and be considered under Merit Promotion procedures.


  • Occasional Travel
  • Travel will be required to meet with insular area officials to evaluate and coordinate Federal policy and to implement national and local strategies in the insular areas to help them plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change.


  • No


  • You must be a U.S. Citizen.
  • You will be subject to a background/suitability investigation/determination
  • You must submit ALL required documents and a completed questionnaire.
  • You will be required to have federal payments made by Direct Deposit.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Guam and Black Swan Crazy Risk

A Black Swan event is something that is so improbable that it doesn't even register until it happens. It's an event that has an extreme impact, arrives as a surprise, is an outlier, appears unpredictable but is understood in hindsight. A big asteroid strike, or a solar storm powerful enough to knock out the electric grid, are examples of Black Swans.

Some wars may be Black Swan events.

We owe the term "Black Swan" to Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his 2001 book Fooled By Randomness. It's a great metaphor. They once believed all swans were white, but in 1697 there black swan was discovered in Australia.

Black Swan is now used to describe the risk of unexpected, high-impact events. The National Intelligence Council cites some examples of potential black swan events in its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. It's a very accessible and interesting read.

No one seriously, truly, expects China and Japan to engage in conflict over disputed islands in the South China Sea, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China. Both countries claim them. Japan controls the islands, but China recently initiated an air defense zone over them. The idea that China may simply take the island by military force does not seem far-fetched.  The possibility of inadvertent conflict arising out of these tensions is a worry as well.

China's moves are troubling but Japan isn't helping. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be stoking nationalist sentiments by his recent visit to a shrine that is connected with some war criminals. At the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, Abe reportedly compared the relations between China and Japan to those of Britain and German in World War I and invoking the fear of a parallel drift to war. The comparison was subsequently blamed on an interpreter's error, but still. You wonder.

Where does this leave Guam? The U.S. has a defense agreement with Japan so if China were to do something really aggressive, it may force a U.S. response. It's difficult to imagine what may arise. But for Guam it may be one more source of worry (North Korea being another) for an island that may have front row seat to a Black Swan event.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tourism from China has a ways to go

Interesting piece at Quartz that cites some data forecasting a rise in tourism from China.

It reports that 21,000 Chinese tourists traveled to Guam in 2012, a figure that can rise substantially in time.

It's not far-fetched to think so, or to hope for. Japanese tourism has been immensely important to Guam's employment base, but it also made Guam too vulnerable to changes in Japan's economy. If China's tourism can grow, it might give Guam more stability.

But tourism from China has a long way to go. As the Japan Times reports: In 2012, nearly 929,000 visitors came from Japan to Guam, 71% of the annual total and a 12.7 percent increase from the prior year.

The First Hawaiian Bank economic forecast for Guam reported this:
A total of 1.278 million visitors came to Guam in 2012, up 12.81% over 2011. This level of arrivals has not been reached since 1995-1997. In 2013, visitor arrivals are up more than 5% through April compared to the same period last year, suggesting this year will top 2012’s total despite some challenging events.  
The "challenging events" affecting tourism pre-2012 are related to Japan's recovery from its earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant incidents.

Guam government is making some bets in its 2014 budget that tourism will increase, and points to how critical it is: "Economic stability in the near term for Guam is contingent on a projected modest increase in tourist arrivals as well as continued strong levels of construction activity," it notes

Monday, February 18, 2013

Guns, Guam and Gun Tourism

An Associate Press story about Guam's gun ranges serving as an attraction for Japanese tourists caused me to wince.

Let’s start with this third graph:
The U.S. territory of Guam — a tropical island often described as a cheaper version of Hawaii — has long been the perfect place to put guns in the hands of tourists, especially from Japan, where gun ownership is tightly restricted and handguns are banned 
Is Guam, as this story claims, “often described as a cheaper version of Hawaii?”  It’s kind of like describing North Dakota as just like North Carolina except with fewer people.

Guam is place with its own unique history, culture, cuisine, traditions and may be more polyglot than Hawaii. It is not Hawaii-lite.

The story goes on to say: “But this Pacific island halfway between Tokyo and Honolulu is America.”

It’s America with an asterisk and it would be nice if the story explained what being part of America really means for Guam, because that's an important point in a story about American gun culture.

Guam is an unincorporated territory with only symbolic representation in Congress, and very little say over the military’s use of the island. Hawaii doesn't have its own entry in the CIA Factbook’s list of countries; Guam does.

But the thing that made me feel very uncomfortable was the idea that Guam is getting a reputation as a place for gun tourism. Evidently, there are a lot of Japanese tourists who want to do something they can’t do at home, and that’s fire off guns.

Japan’s gun laws are very restrictive. The Japan Times explains: “It’s almost impossible to get to a gun in Japan, and selling one or owning one is a serious crime.”

But on Guam, writes AP, it's much different.
Guam's gun ranges are to the Japanese what Amsterdam's cannabis cafes are to backpackers from the world over.
This story didn't probe the underlying problems around this issue.

What's missing in this tourist-from-Japan-love-going-to-Guam-gun-ranges is whether  people on Guam are comfortable with shooting ranges.

Does Guam really want gun ranges to proliferate? Is there concern about the influence of the ranges, the entirety of the gun culture, on the island itself?

Will media attention on Guam’s gun ranges increase gun tourism and, in turn, spur the creation of more gun ranges?

Will the growing wealth of gun range owners influence local laws, relaxing restrictions on gun use?

Shooting ranges have the potential, I suspect, of becoming as much as a turn-off for tourists as they are a potential draw. There’s something discordant about exploring pristine ocean waters, enjoying gorgeous sunsets and vistas, and then running off to a gun range.

The problem with the AP story is it will become one more thing for Guam to deal with. The story, and others that will follow, assume that because Guam is “America” it is somehow representative of America’s excessive gun culture. Guam becomes, through these news stories, a caricature of what it is not.