Marianas Variety

Last updateThu, 23 May 2019 12am







    Tuesday, May 21, 2019-5:28:01A.M.






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Variations | Autarky is always an option

A YOUNG man who spent four years in the states to obtain a college degree returns to his home island — and is “shocked” to find out that the minimum wage here is much less compared to the rates on the American West Coast, for example. Why, he asks, can’t the NMI be like Washington state or even like Hawaii or Guam?

The short answer: wage rates largely depend on a jurisdiction’s economy which, in turn, depends on workforce availability among other factors.

Small and remote with not a lot of resources, the NMI has a modest, one-industry economy and an indigenous population of over 15,000. In contrast, Washington state is the 18th largest state and the 13th most populous state. It is also blessed with abundant resources. Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft and Costco are among the major companies that are based in the state. Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and the largest exporter in the U.S., was founded in Washington state. In the Seattle area, Boeing employs about 80,000 people.

Compared to the NMI, Guam has a much larger population (over 160,000), a much larger economy as reflected in its government’s budget ($849 million in FY 2018; the NMI?  $145 million). Each year, about 1.3 million tourists visit Guam. (In the NMI,  600,000 arrivals a year are considered “high.”) Guam’s economy also benefits from a significant U.S. military presence.

With a population of 1.4 million, Hawaii has an even larger economy. In 2017, over 9 million tourists visited the state. The second biggest driver to Hawaii’s economy is the U.S. military “with approximately 2 billion dollars being spent annually in the state.”

Of course, economically prosperous jurisdictions have problems, too, one of which is the high cost of living — and a shortage of workers for certain job categories. Washington state hires seasonal, nonresident agricultural workers. The state’s “growing agricultural industry is struggling to find the labor needed to harvest produce,” UPI reported in Aug. 2018. “This year alone, Washington employers have filed applications requesting a combined 24,658 H-2A visas for foreign guest workers. The requests have grown by the thousands annually since 2009….” The average salary for a farm worker in the state is $13.69 per hour.

Guam has been hiring guest workers for certain job categories since the end of World War II. In his autobiography published in 1998, Bank of Guam founder Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero wrote that “[t]housands of Filipinos have come to Guam over the past 30 years…. Many of the Filipino friends I have known for years have moved on to the States. Many of those who stayed behind and made Guam their home are married to local women.”

As for Hawaii, Hawaii Business Magazine reported in March 2018 how “immigrants get the job done” in the state.

Immigrants, the report stated, “have an outsized place in Hawaii’s history. In the 19th and early 20th centuries they came from Japan, China, Puerto Rico and the Portuguese Azores and sustained the labor-intensive sugar and pineapple industries that dominated the state until a generation ago, creating a distinctive plantation culture with its own food and even its own dialect. But they didn’t stop coming when the plantations shut down. More likely now to come from the Philippines, South Korea or Vietnam, immigrants still power our largest industries, filling 46 percent of jobs in ‘tourism accommodation, arrangements and reservation services,’ and 37 percent of jobs involving crop production…. Immigrants have significant roles in our burgeoning STEM sector and in our world-famous food scene, comprising 46 percent of cooks in Hawaii and 45 percent of bakers…. Immigrants teach our students, clean our facilities, and they employ many of us, too…. Today, 1 in 5 of us living in Hawaii is a first-generation immigrant   and the rest are descended from people who came from somewhere else.”

Sad to say, we cannot simply legislate into existence the attractive economic indicators of economically successful jurisdictions. Wage rates in any jurisdiction have to reflect that jurisdiction’s economic realities.  And it is economic growth and not government mandates that will determine whether wages will rise. A successful economy, moreover, must have the workers it needs.

But then again, it is the right of the people of any country or jurisdiction to choose another goal that doesn’t involve improving the economy or any other economic considerations.

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