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American Samoa

Comprehensive Country Overview

Explore the geography, history, and socio-economic factors shaping American Samoa

Country description

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the South Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. It is part of the Polynesian island group and consists of seven islands, including the main islands of Tutuila, Aunu'u, and the Manu'a group, as well as the coral atolls of Rose Atoll and Swains Island. The islands are primarily volcanic, featuring rugged mountains, lush rainforests, and stunning coastlines.

The Samoan islands were likely settled around 1000 BCE by Polynesian voyagers, possibly from Tonga. The islands served as a dispersal center for the settlement of much of Eastern Polynesia. Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen was the first European to sight the islands in 1722, with further European contact occurring with the arrival of traders and missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1899, the Tripartite Convention divided Samoa into Eastern Samoa (a US territory, now known as American Samoa) and Western Samoa (a German colony that later gained independence as Samoa). The United States Navy officially established a presence in 1900.

American Samoa operates under a revised Constitution established in 1967, with its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. However, the U.S. retains authority over fundamental matters. The territory's economy is small and heavily dependent on external aid and federal spending, with tuna canning and government being the leading economic sectors. Tourism also contributes to the economy, albeit to a lesser extent. The traditional Samoan culture and way of life, known as Fa'a Samoa, remains deeply integral to society in American Samoa. Fa'a Samoa emphasizes communal living, a strong emphasis on family (aiga), chiefly authority (the matai system), and respect for elders.

Workforce description

American Samoa has a small workforce of around 17,000 individuals, with an aging population and significant out-migration, primarily to the mainland United States. This creates a shortage of qualified personnel across industries. The median age is rising within the territory, which has implications for future workforce availability and skill sets.

Skill Levels

A considerable part of the population has below-average educational attainment compared to the mainland US. Over 50% of the population did not have a high school diploma or equivalent according to a 2020 study. However, there's a focus on vocational training programs to boost skill sets in industries with labor demand.

Sectoral Distribution

Major Sectors

The largest employer in American Samoa remains the government, contributing significantly to the territory's GDP. The tuna canning industry is a significant economic sector, providing substantial employment opportunities. Tourism, while not a dominant sector, is steadily growing and provides jobs in hospitality, recreation, and associated fields.

Smaller but Significant Sectors

Small-scale retail and service establishments provide employment to a portion of the workforce. Traditional agriculture and fishing continue to employ a percentage of the population, primarily on a subsistence level.

Key Points to Note

American Samoa's workforce embodies both challenges and prospective avenues for growth. Addressing these challenges will require concentrated efforts in education and training paired with policies to encourage a knowledge-based economy and retain talent.

Cultural norms impacting employment

In American Samoa, a US territory, the unique blend of traditional Polynesian values and modern influences significantly impacts employment norms.

Work-life Balance: The Importance of Fa'a Samoa

Fa'a Samoa, or The Samoan Way, encapsulates core values focusing on family, community, and faith. This often leads individuals to prioritize obligations to family and village over individual ambitions and work goals. Traditional extended family units provide childcare support, enabling more flexible work schedules, which might include unconventional hours or frequent breaks. Ceremonies, religious observances, and family events can take precedence over work commitments, and employers need to be mindful of these.

Communication Styles: Nuances in Interactions

In American Samoa, there is a preference for subtle and non-confrontational communication to maintain harmony and respect. Building trust and rapport is essential before conducting business. Elders and chiefs hold significant authority, and seeking their input demonstrates respect for tradition. It's also important to observe body language and facial expressions, as direct criticism can be avoided.

Organizational Hierarchies: Fa'amatai and Respect

The traditional Samoan system of governance, Fa'amatai, emphasizes respect for chiefs and elders. This translates into the workplace with clear decision-making hierarchies. Age and family status are highly valued, impacting workplace interactions and promotions. Decision-making can be a consultative process involving respected figures, potentially creating a slower pace than some Western models. There is a preference for resolving disputes through mediation within existing social structures rather than formal legal or HR channels.

Key industries and employment sectors

The American Samoa economy is largely driven by several key industries and employment sectors.


The American Samoa Government (ASG) is the largest employer in the territory, providing a wide range of public services that contribute significantly to economic stability.

Tuna Canning and Processing

American Samoa is home to StarKist Samoa, one of the world's largest tuna canneries. The tuna industry is a crucial economic driver, providing a significant source of employment and serving as the primary export.


While not as large as some Pacific Island neighbors, tourism contributes to American Samoa's economy. The territory's unique culture and natural landscapes, including the National Park of American Samoa, offer opportunities for nature-based and cultural tourism.

Emerging Sectors

Small Business and Entrepreneurship

American Samoa is working to diversify its economy by promoting small businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors. There is potential in areas such as agriculture, handicrafts, and light manufacturing.

Technology and Digital Services

The growing availability of internet access opens possibilities for American Samoa to participate in the global digital economy. Areas like remote services, software development, and online trade offer untapped potential.

Significant Employers

Beyond the industries listed above, here are some of the major employers in American Samoa:

Public Sector

  • American Samoa Government (ASG)
  • LBJ Tropical Medical Center
  • American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA)
  • American Samoa Community College (ASCC)

Private Sector

  • StarKist Samoa
  • Samoa Tuna Processors
  • McConnell Dowell (construction)
  • Bluesky Communications
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