Guam’s current unemployment rate is the highest it’s ever been since officials began collecting labor data in the 1970s.
And while the outlook is bleak for now, one economist says it’s not all doom and gloom.
Dr. Roseann Jones, an economics professor at the University of Guam, says certainly the statistics are distressing but says it’s only a snapshot in time.
“And the way that unemployment data are collected, we’re looking at this happening in the past two weeks when they actively asked if you’ve looked for a job. So, one of the challenges we have with the unemployment numbers is are they unemployed by choice? Are they unemployed because their business is temporarily closed during that time? Or, are they unemployed because the business has shuttered and is not coming back?” Jones said.
Jones says this information is crucial to understanding the labor trends on Guam, including parents and guardians who’ve had to leave work or modify their hours to assist with children’s homeschooling during the pandemic.
She does admit that the Guam economy won’t be seeing a bounce back in the near term. But she holds a strong optimism that we WILL recover.
Tourism, Guam’s number 1 economy, has the longest recovery ahead.
“Especially for the tourism industry, about 2 years, and that’s with a vaccine, one that proves that it’s lasting…there are still unknowns about that. So, I think they’re saying 2 years as both an optimistic and conservative point of view. It may come back sooner if the vaccine is wildly successful, and we hope that it is,” Jones said.
Jones says if people start feeling safe to travel, we could see a jumpstart to tourism next summer and into the end of next year.
“I do know that in surveys that we’ve had when we ask people when we’re out of COVID, what’s the one thing that you’re going to do, or want to do…people are saying ‘I want to travel!'” Jones said.
Jones says Guam has known for a long time that it’s vulnerable with tourism as the economic driver since ultimately, going on vacation is not a “need” but rather, a “want” and “wants” are always the first thing to be cut in household budgets.
As for unemployment locally, she says it’s not just the fact that people don’t have jobs, the domino effect is also significant.
“The consequence of real purchasing power, the ability to pay rent and pay utilities, to maintain healthcare because it’s insurance, is often tied to employment. So, there are lots of spillovers to this, no doubt,” Jones said.
She says one major next step to help stabilize the economy would be another round of federal stimulus, which would both put money in the hands of citizens and also help support businesses.
On Friday, Guam Department of Labor Chief Economist Gary Hiles reported the dismal unemployment numbers, saying that Guam had a 17.3 percent unemployment rate because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
While construction has remained steady and even increased, Hiles says all of the industries related to tourism, transportation, retail, trade, finance, hotels, and other services have declined.