Marianas Variety

Last updateFri, 19 Oct 2018 12am







    Thursday, October 18, 2018-9:17:48P.M.






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Variations: So much drama

SOME say the CNMI has 10 more years to “prepare” for the exit of its current CW-1 permit holders by creating a local workforce. This is a popular sentiment among voters. To make it happen, we probably should look closer into the problem we’re trying to solve.

In 2015, the GAO reported, “foreign workers, who totaled 12,784, made up more than half of the CNMI workforce and filled 80 percent of all hospitality and construction jobs….”

So are we saying that instead of pursuing a college education, local students should fill mostly hospitality and construction jobs? I don’t think that’s what we’re saying.

Are we referring to local residents who are unemployed and/or on food stamps? Are we saying that we should “persuade” them to take up hospitality or construction jobs? But how many of them are able-bodied? How many chose not to work because they can afford to? 

Two years ago, Congressman Kilili noted that “three out of five food-stamp recipients in the Marianas are children.” Do we believe that in a democracy, government can force some of its citizens to take certain jobs? If compulsion is, sadly, out of the question, what then? Increase wages? By how much? Are we sure employers can afford to pay them? What if they reduce work-hours, benefits (if there are any left), the number of their workers or simply shut down because they can no longer afford to do business here? Good riddance? Maybe. But how does that create a local workforce?

Based on the last U.S. Census, moreover, the CNMI’s indigenous population was around 15,000. That number included children, retirees and the elderly. Many local residents are already employed. Each and every one of them can choose from a variety of career and lifestyle opportunities — here and anywhere else in their huge nation which is the U.S.

So bring in FAS citizens and Americans from the states, you say.

The island’s big employers are already doing that with mixed results which should not be surprising. Other and wealthier U.S. jurisdictions that can pay much more are also looking for workers in more or less the same job categories that CWs now fill in the CNMI.

What should the local government do then?

What it has done in the past and what it is still doing now: providing educational and training opportunities to the youth through PSS, NMC, a vocational/trade school and scholarship programs.

As for the private sector’s workforce needs, the recent CW-extension turmoil plainly shows that the CNMI is at the mercy of unelected (by the CNMI) federal officials who can easily shut down the local economy if they so desire. The more forward-looking employers should step up the transition, if possible, to other U.S. work-permit programs. If not, they should identify and implement labor-saving methods, including automation, and consider outsourcing certain jobs.

Let me point out again that if Congress did not remove the original CW program extension provision from the federalization law, there would have been no need to “rescue” the CNMI from an economic disaster. We could have been spared from all the drama, uncertainty, family separations and financial losses of the past year or so.

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From an AP report in March 2018:

“ ‘The idea that we only need people with certain degrees — it’s never been true in America, and it’s less true now than it was in the past,’ said Michael Clemens, an economist and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank.

“Sixty-three percent of current American jobs — and 46 percent of jobs expected to be created between 2016 and 2026 — require no more than a high school diploma, according to the Labor Department. The new positions include low-paying jobs that most native-born Americans are loath to pursue — an estimated 778,000 personal-care aides (median pay in 2016: $21,920), 580,000 food-service workers ($19,400), 431,000 home-health aides ($22,600).

“Many of those jobs, Clemens says, ‘will either be done by immigrants, or they will not be done at all.’

“Already, foreign-born workers — about 17 percent of the overall workforce — account for 52 percent of America’s maids, 47 percent of roofers and 40 percent of construction laborers and laundry and dry-cleaning workers.

“Low-skilled immigrants harvest sweet potatoes and cucumbers in fields in North Carolina. They serve dementia patients in nursing homes. They vacuum offices. They are waiters, cooks and maids at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.”

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