For at least the last couple of decades, the GFT has worked to impress upon our island leaders the importance of improving the quality of life for working families. During this most recent campaign season, many candidates seeking office set forth, “improving the quality of life for working families” as part of their platform. So, with everybody on board, how do we accomplish this?
Obviously, there can be no quality of life for working families if the most basic and fundamental needs are not first met. These needs are requirements for human survival such as Food, Water, Sleep, Shelter, and Stability. Equally important are safety needs. Not just physical safety but also economic safety as a fundamental need. Economic Safety is job security, grievance procedures, savings accounts, insurance policies, disability accommodations, and so forth.
Employers play a significant role in the quality of life. Having a job is one of the most powerful determining factors for living a quality life. Employers must offer jobs with benefits that can help ease employee worries, support employee needs for day care, flexible hours, offer monetary bonuses that help solve problems. Employers must enforce policies prohibiting harassment, provide employee assistance programs and strive to create a workplace that is secure, clean and comfortable.
Wages matter too. The quality of life is poor when the employee must work two or more jobs to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, particularly when children are involved. Employees with two or more jobs often have no savings, health insurance or retirement program in place. They struggle paycheck to paycheck and have little of family time. Many will tell you they have sacrificed themselves for their children. This is certainly not a quality life. Jobs must pay living wages commensurate with the type of work they perform.
Government officials obviously play a very important role and must look carefully and critically at their decision to ensure they are indeed working to improve the quality of life for working families. Our government needs to generate good jobs and oppose policies that encourage part time, temporary or seasonal employment with no benefits and moreover, avoid needlessly scaring employees with idle threats of layoff and furloughs. This is counterproductive because it erodes the sense of economic safety. The Government can fund itself and it needs to do so adequately and without the drama.
Unemployment insurance and some form of job protection will also help meet the security needs of workers. I encourage government officials to install the labor board, give employees in the private sector for cause job protection and unemployment insurance. The present situation of At-Will Employment without unemployment insurance provides no stability or economic safety net for workers. Current laws, policies and programs are as poor as they possibly could be.
Education plays a key role. Education in the form of training for skill development in both new and existing workers will prepare them for new technologies and entrepreneurship. Education is the key to breaking the chain of poverty so many families experience.
Improving the quality of life means supporting sports programs for young children to promote healthy choices and life-long fitness.
A wiser man once said,
“In youth, we sacrifice our health for wealth.
In old age, we sacrifice our wealth to get back our health.”
To feel safe, working families need to know that quality health care is accessible and affordable. Affordability may mean making supplemental health care plans available and reform existing health care to make it affordable. We may consider medical allowances or a fully funded Government health care system. Whatever the solution may be, we must find ways to improve care and control costs.
Retirement. Recently our government took an interest in its employee retirement program. Unfortunately, the focus of this effort seemed to place affordability for the employer over the needs of working families. If quality of life is the goal, these programs must meet the financial needs of the working families now and in retirement years. Still more work needs to be done to ensure a quality lifestyle in the golden years.
Income tax. Perhaps one of the most complex challenges our government will face in its role of improving the quality of life for working families is income taxes. The goal, protect legitimate income, regulate excessively high income, abolition of illegal income and narrow or at least prevent the excessive widening of the income gap between the poor and rich. A strong middle class is critical to the strong economy we need to support quality of life. We must reverse the trend where the gap between the rich and poor grows wider each day and the middle class gradually fades away. The current path we are on is the road to economic disaster, inflation has outpaced wages and is whittling away at the quality of life for working families on Guam.
This is my road map to improving the quality of life for the working families on Guam. I welcome your comments and criticisms because such healthy discussion and debate may indeed just take us where we are trying to go.