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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Poverty Amongst CNMI Families Reportedly Increasing
Report shows median income has risen little over 20 years

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 20, 2013) – Compared to other insular areas, the number of poor families in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands increased in the last 10 years and many of the children of these families are flocking to public schools, straining an already overstretched Public School System (PSS).

In a presentation to the Board of Education, PSS federal programs officer Tim Thornburgh revealed that, based on the 2010 Census, the CNMI has the lowest amount of family median income compared to Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the CNMI, the family median income per year is only $22,455 compared to Guam's $50,607. American Samoa slightly surpassed the CNMI with $24,706, while the U.S. Virgin Islands is at $45,058. In the U.S. mainland, the median family income is $64,400.

Thornburgh said the CNMI's family median income in 2010 shows a miniscule growth of just $1,180 across the 20-year period from 1990 when CNMI family median income was at $21,275 per year.

This is in stark contrast to Guam, which showed a $19,429 increase in its median family income across 20 years. The same holds true with American Samoa, which saw a $7,831 increase; and the Virgin Islands, which saw a $21,022 increase over same period. In the U.S., the median family income across the same 20 years saw an increase of $29,200.

The data, Thornburgh said, can be interpreted to mean that 6 out of 10 students at PSS belong to poor families, or those whose income are below the federal poverty guidelines. These students are aged 5 to 17 years.

Thornburgh said there are 4,760 families in the CNMI whose incomes are below the federal poverty guideline.

The report also indicates that private school enrollment shows growth across the 20-year period in other insular areas except in the CNMI, which had with the lowest private school enrollment at 2,038 in 2010. Guam had 7,918; American Samoa, 4,904; and the U.S. Virgin Islands, 7,006.

In the public school enrollment, only the CNMI shows an increase in 2010 compared to other areas, which all showed a decline in their enrollment numbers. The CNMI saw a 12-percent increase in PSS enrollment in the 10-year period: from 9,241 in 2000 to 10,369 in 2010.

The U.S. Virgin Islands' public school enrollment dropped 28 percent; American Samoa, by 14 percent; and Guam, by 2 percent.

"If we will combine public and private school enrollment for a total K-12 enrollment, only the Virgin Islands shows a 15-percent reduction in the number of students grades K-12," added Thornburgh.

Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D., said the data presents a clear picture of the reality that many families' income significantly declined.

"The family median in come in the CNMI is only $22,000 a year, how do you expect these families to properly provide for their kids? Their incomes are very low and we should be mindful where and how services are actually provided to children so we can ensure their success," she told Saipan Tribune.

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