FSM Lag In Employment: 22% Unemployment For Chuukese

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Guam’s overall unemployment at 7.4%

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 23, 2015) – Federated States of Micronesia citizens, who make up the third-largest group of workers on Guam, lag far behind the two main groups in landing jobs.

In a breakdown of the island's workforce by citizenship and residency status, local labor department statistics show 46,042 of Guam's workers are U.S. citizens, and 7,983 are permanent U.S. residents or green card holders.

The third-largest group are Chuukese, who number 2,770, or 4 percent of the total employed workforce. But the unemployment rate among Chuukese migrants has been as high at 22 percent, labor department data show. In his State of the Island address last month, Gov. Eddie Calvo said Guam's overall unemployment was at 7.4 percent in March 2014.

Citizens of the FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands can enter Guam -- without the need for visa scrutiny -- as part of their island governments' compact of free association agreements with the United States.

As a result, Guam's population has seen a surge in migration, primarily from the FSM, and most noticeably from the state of Chuuk, one of the poorest economies in Micronesia.

The issue of regional migration has been the topic of local discussions, in part because the government of Guam has recently put a price tag of $144 million on last year's cost of providing health care, education, public safety and other public services to regional immigrants, mostly from the FSM. Over the past 11 years, the GovGuam's total tab for hosting regional immigrants reached $856 million, GovGuam numbers show.

But while regional immigrants who don't have jobs and aren't fully self-sustaining have been counted by GovGuam as a burden on public services, the thousands who do have jobs are considered a key part of Guam's labor pool, local labor department statistics show.

Do the jobs others won't

Many FSM workers hold jobs that other Guam residents won't do because higher education and work experience allow other residents to land better-paying jobs than many regional immigrants can secure, statistics show.

Of the regional immigrants who chose to relocate to Guam, instead of Hawaii or the U.S. mainland, the greatest numbers come from Chuuk state.

The population of Chuuk migrants to Guam surged by 80 percent over the past decade, as reported in the 2010 Census, and the number of Chuukese workers on Guam surged as well, by 60 percent, said Gary Hiles, chief economist at the Guam Department of Labor. Guam's population grew by 2.9 percent in that period, Hiles said.

"While the unemployment rate for Chuukese residents on Guam is high, 22.6 percent in the 2010 Population Census, it is noteworthy that over three-quarters of the Chuukese in the labor force are employed," Hiles said. "They are employed in virtually every industry and many occupational categories on Guam."

Workers from Chuuk are in service occupations, such as in private security; food preparation; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; sales and office occupations; construction and production; and transportation occupations, local labor department data show.

Hard-working and loyal

Some of the regional immigrants employed at Guahan Waste Control and Guahan Waste Recycling have been with the same employer for more than 10 years, said the company's General Manager Robert Perron.

"They are among the hardest-working, most loyal employees that we have," Perron said. "They fill such positions as welder, recycling worker, yard maintenance and truck driver."

One of the regional migrants employed at Guahan Waste, Tarko Tanisiro, moved to Guam from Palau in 1975 in search of a better economic future for his family.

He started doing entry-level jobs, and over the past few years, has moved up to a supervisory role for Guahan Waste Recycling.

With his current employer, Tanisiro said his job is secure.

"I'm giving back to the community, by helping to clean this island up, plus it is a lifetime job," he said. "Trash will never go away."

Advance Management Inc., whose business on Guam and in San Diego includes facilities maintenance, also is a major employer of regional immigrants on Guam.

The company has about 150 regional migrant employees -- nearly half of its total workforce on Guam, said Monty McDowell, chief executive officer of Advance Management Inc.

McDowell's company provides skills training to regional migrants and advice on work ethic and some of the rules and expectations on Guam for how to be a good neighbor.

For example, in Chuuk, it's OK to live without running water, plumbing and sewer connection, McDowell said. One of the things regional migrants are advised on when they're new to Guam is they're responsible for paying utilities and rent, among other expectations, he said.

He said once the regional migrant workers are familiar with their job, many of them stay for years, McDowell said.

Oversupply of labor

The Chuukese labor pool on Guam is the largest of the regional immigrant community, and while thousands are employed, those who aren't and want jobs face daunting challenges for a host of reasons, Hiles said.

"There is an oversupply of unskilled labor relative to the demand in a competitive job market," Hiles said.

"Barriers to employment, while not unique to this group, are more pronounced due to limited public transportation, limited English language skills and less educational attainment and work experience," Hiles said.

Banker Phil Flores said the regional immigrants working for his businesses are doing a good job.

"We are happy to help them assimilate into our island community," Flores stated. "Some struggle, but in general, they work hard and are dependable."

Yet despite the hard work of the regional migrants, Flores said the surge in regional migrants must be discussed.

"I don't know of any (other place) that could completely assimilate the number of immigrants coming in relative to the size of our community," Flores said.

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