Thursday, July 5, 2001

Saipan’s population surges

The U.S. territory has attracted
thousands of garment workers

By Janis L. Magin
Associated Press

The population of Saipan, a tiny U.S. territory in the western Pacific which has attracted thousands of garment workers in recent years, swelled 60 percent in the last decade, according to census figures.

Census data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau for U.S. territories in the Pacific -- Guam, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa -- show population growth over the last decade across the scattered islands.

The data do not show, however, a breakdown of the population, except by district. More detailed demographic data on various island populations will be released later this year.

The population of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas in 2000 was 69,221, an increase of 25,876 over 1990's population, according to figures provided to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On Saipan, the most populous of the Northern Marianas islands, the population surged by 23,496 to 62,392 in 2000.

Some of Saipan's population growth comes from an influx of garment workers -- mostly women from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand -- who are not protected by U.S. minimum-wage laws even though the goods they make can be stamped "Made in U.S.A."

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that garment workers on Saipan could sue their employers over alleged sweatshop conditions anonymously because they feared disclosing their names could get them fired or deported.

Later data, which will be more about the population, including income and ethnic origin, may show more about the nature of Saipan's growth.

The other two U.S. territories in the western Pacific -- Guam and American Samoa -- also saw their populations grow 16 percent and 22 percent respectively since 1990, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

The Census Bureau worked with the territorial governments to collect the detailed population and housing data.

American Samoa, where some garment factories have also been accused of worker abuse, gained 10,518 people in the last decade. The population of the U.S. territory about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii was 57,291 in 2000, according to census figures.

Guam, about 3,700 miles west of Hawaii and the largest of the Pacific territories, is home to several U.S. military bases. The 212-square-mile island gained 21,653 people since 1990. Its population in 2000 was 154,805.

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