Before Hurricanes María and Irma hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, the island had long been suffering from an extended economic crisis, La Crísis Boricua, since 2006.
But Puerto Rico had been neglected for long before then. Since the US invasion of the island in 1898, Puerto Rico’s role as a site of extraction has escalated with the primary purpose of benefiting the mainland United States while increasing the island’s dependence on the larger power. The more recent wave of purportedly debt-driven austerity has spurred a new wave of net out-migration, high unemployment, declining labor-force participation, and the worsening of a host of other socioeconomic conditions.
Given this context, it is clear that any long-term solution for increased wellbeing in Puerto Rico must involve a change in political status for the island and a social-justice-based restitution of appropriated wealth.
Puerto Rico’s real GDP shrank by 15.9% between 2004 and 2017, and the island’s total population fell from 3.8 million in 2004 to 3.4 million in 2016, a net loss of more than 400,000 people.
In every year between 2005 and 2016, with only one exception, out-migration from Puerto Rico has far outweighed in-migration from the US mainland to the island.
On average, the labor-force participation rate is 18 percentage points lower in Puerto Rico and the unemployment rate is 9.4 percentage points higher than on the US mainland.
A Puerto Rico Job Guarantee (PRJG) would reduce Puerto Rico’s high unemployment and out-migration rates, while building a public workforce to counteract the prevailing trends toward the privatization of public infrastructure.