The depression I get when people leave, and the poverty that forces them away • Troy Talks: Episode 24

I always hated when the workers at Paradise Fitness Center left their jobs. It must be a good place to work, because the employees stay there pretty long, so whenever they leave, it’s noticeable. And when they do leave, it gives me that same feeling I get whenever I move out of a place and look back at the empty room before shutting the door for the last time: melancholy.

I thought about this as I was pondering just how many people have left Guam. Thousands. Enough so that I can pretty much assume every household on this island has been affected by family, friend, or co-worker who has packed up and left in the last few years.

And unlike the reasons the Paradise employees leave their jobs – new job in Guam, off to college or the military, or some extenuating circumstance – the exodus we’re experiencing is cause for further introspection. That’s because people are leaving Guam unexpectedly so they can survive and find a new home that will provide them better lives.

Joshua Tenorio has it right. The biggest problem underlying most of our issues is poverty. This isn’t a judgment call of whether he’s using his current authority – whatever that might be as the sitting lieutenant governor – to do something about it. But he’s not wrong. Also, the problem has been around and has been escalating for decades prior to his election to office.

The last governor tried. Helping the common man out of poverty was a big deal to Eddie Calvo. He was very much committed to a classrooms-to-careers standard in public education, affordable housing development, Medicaid funding expansion, foster care and disabilities support systems, and generally any pathway out of poverty for Guamanians. And at that crucial time, when so many more households were falling under the national poverty line, that commitment and effort from Mr. Calvo – I firmly believe – kept thousands of people above water, with increased access to healthcare and other critical services.

But rather than continuing up that path and reforming the burden government places on businesses, he got distracted by cronies swarming public contracts. Instead of advocating tax reform that could have meant structured revenues for public education and breaks for businesses so they could reinvest in private sector paychecks, he raised taxes.

Guam was never richer than when Eddie Calvo left her, with $6 billion GDP, record employment and total payroll output in every single sector, and record tourism spending. We had such an opportunity to translate that further into opportunity and hope for Guamanians teetering then on the brink of poverty. And that was before the major investments by the military.

Six years later, they not only fell into poverty’s vice grip, thousands simply left.

It’s hard to tell whether Ms. Leon Guerrero had an actionable plan to use Mr. Calvo’s advances and make that overarching economic translation to the households of the average Guamanian. Her first year in office was lackluster, then the pandemic hit. Nothing much mattered but preventing early onset spread and death.

Then the money started rolling in. And this is where our current governor could have made better decisions. Multi millions in federal funds secured by Guam’s former congressman were unilaterally spent by the governor on sole source or quasi-procedural procurement that benefitted people close to her and her campaign. Residents received, by comparison, peanuts in the form of direct grant aid. Remember Prugramman Salappe? Take a look at the total spending roster of federal pandemic funds. That was nothing compared to Prugramman Cronies.

Then there were Michael San Nicolas’ unexpected victories in Congress that yielded Guam more than $100 million annually in additional funding. Rather than investing that new money and finally reforming GovGuam into something different and something that works efficiently, the legislature began to appropriate that money away on one pet project after another. They even went along with an across-the-board massive pay raise for government employees. Because the pay raise was by a fixed percentage, the bulk of that money went to the higher-paid employees who already were doing well in the tough economy. They went from middle class citizens to upper middle class citizens in one paycheck while thousands of Guam’s lower middle class and poor had to suffer more.

Imagine if all that money spent and pledged away the past three years had instead went to actual fiscal reform, operational efficiency, and the lowering of the tax burden on businesses. Think about the money the private sector could have used to grow, employ more people, pay them more, give them more hours, attach greater benefits, provide more services, bring in more goods.

Keep people from leaving.

Alas, here we are, all these years later having reached the pinnacle of economic success just six years ago then having nothing to show for it but a widening divide between the haves and the have nots. Ross must be making a killing off luggage sales.

This exodus confirms a problem worse than poverty. It confirms a loss of hope for many. Perhaps they saw all the crime and the drugs and thought that nothing will change for the better. Perhaps they got tired of a decade-old promise by one politician after another to build a new hospital or a new Simon Sanchez High School. Who in need of medical care or services for children with special needs can wait for GovGuam to change? To be different? Who can reasonably expect a hotel worker with no prospects of landing a lucrative GovGuam job to stick around, when Walmart in some obscure southern Californian town will pay them twice their wage, give them benefits, and the cost of their rent and food will be much lower than here at home?

What we need is change. Wholesale, adventurous, unyielding, aggressive change.

Can any of the candidates for public office out there comment on this thread and promise our viewers the kind of change we need?


  • Nick Nichols

      04/12/2024 at 10:42 AM

    Well said Troy! There is no accountability at Adelup…Very sad for the residents of this beautiful island…

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