Guam PUA

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program staffer Isaac Certeza, seated, helps several people sign in for their PUA appointments at the Guam Department of Labor satellite PUA center at the Dededo Public Library in this Oct. 2020  photo.

The Guam Daily Post photo

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) —  Government of Guam jobs increased by 1.3% while GovGuam employees' weekly earnings jumped by 10.5% in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that also caused more than 30,000 private sector workers to lose their jobs or get work hour cuts.

Amid the public health crisis, Guam's overall unemployment hit a record-high 19.4% as of December 2020, based on Guam Department of Labor data.

That means 13,850 individuals were completely unemployed during the period, GDOL said in a statement released Tuesday.

The 19.4% is the highest unemployment ever recorded since Guam's Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting data in the mid-1970s.

It toppled the prior record-breaking unemployment of 17.9% in September 2020.

A closer look at the same Labor report, however, shows that GovGuam employment in the midst of the pandemic went up by 1.3%, or from 11,710 in December 2019 to 11,860 in December 2020.

GovGuam's payroll cost increased by 150 jobs in a year's time during the pandemic as health care workers and first responders were hired. At the same time, many nonessential GovGuam workers stayed home but were still paid during the pandemic.

GovGuam employees' average weekly earnings also went up by 10.5%, or from $1,026 in December 2019 to $1,134 in December 2020, GDOL data shows.

"If the GovGuam employment numbers are up, I hope it's because critical and essential employees were hired," Sen. James Moylan said.

The senator added that the governor needs to provide a comprehensive economic recovery plan.

Private sector employment during the same period decreased by 14.9%, from 51,960 in December 2019 to 44,240 in December 2020, the GDOL report shows.

GDOL was able to distribute more than $500 million worth of federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to more than 30,000 pandemic-hit private sector workers, many of whom kept their jobs but at reduced hours.

Federal government jobs went down slightly, by 0.5%.

Weekly earnings of non-supervisory private sector workers went up by 2.3% or from $534.36 in December 2019 to $546.85 in December 2020.

Guam's minimum wage increased by 50 cents to $8.75 an hour on March 1, 2020.

Partial rebound

Pandemic-related job losses started to show in the March 2020 job numbers, which declined somewhat in tourism-related industries, GDOL said.

From March to June, 5,870 private sector jobs were lost.

"By September 2020, the rate of private sector job loss declined for the quarter to 2,270, but the total losses increased to 7,980 and the average weekly hours paid decreased from 36.2 to 31.1 over the year," GDOL said in a statement.

Job reductions by industry through September 2020:

• Retail trade – 3,440

• Hotels – 2,800

• All other services – 1,530

• Transportation and public utilities – 900

Employment began a partial rebound in December 2020 with employment increasing by 990 jobs and average weekly private sector hours paid increasing from 31.1 to 32.9, GDOL said.

"We're seeing a restoration of employment in some industries in addition to construction," Guam Labor Director David Dell'Isola said in a statement. "The Guam Department of Labor's recovery efforts through the National Dislocated Worker Grant program also created new jobs for hundreds of individuals."

He said GDOL will be shifting this grant money toward up-skilling and retraining opportunities to in-demand occupations as service providers open up classrooms and start to offer programs.

Senator Moylan said he and his colleagues introduced a series of measures seeking to help stimulate the economy, including creating new private sector jobs, and they're open to a discussion with the governor about them.

The senator also reiterated his call for an override of the governor's veto of Bill 11, which seeks to shift the power to extend public health emergency declarations from the governor to the Legislature.

"This is why we need to override Bill 11 because if things remain status quo, we will never learn of what positions are being hired until it's too late," Moylan said.

More complex recovery

Construction is the only industry to show growth over the year, increasing from 7,350 jobs to 8,330 in December 2020, GDOL said.

"Much like Hawaii, a large share of our economy is tourism-related," GDOL Chief Economist Gary Hiles said in a statement. "Hotels and anything that relied on tourism declined due to the pandemic. But because almost all of our tourists are international, recovery is more complex."

Asia's vaccination rate has been low in comparison to the U.S.

On Guam, more than 32,000, or about a quarter of the adult population, have been fully vaccinated.

The governor said if about 62,500 or half of Guam's adult population is vaccinated by May 1, then tourism could reopen and post-travel quarantine requirements could be lifted.

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