Is Puerto Rico on the Rise?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released new numbers for Puerto Rico.

  • Employment in the municipio (county) of San Juan fell 2.4% between September 2016 and September 2017.
  • San Juan’s average weekly wage was $617, down 2.2%.
  • Two other municipios, Juncos and Guaynabo, had average weekly wages above $600.
  • Thirty-eight municipios had weekly wage averages below $400.

U.S. employment rose 1.0% during the same time period; the U.S. weekly wage decreased 0.6% to $1,021.

A devastating hurricane made landfall in Puerto Rico in September of 2017. By October, Puerto Rico had an unemployment rate of 10.7%. But in March of 2018, the unemployment rate had fallen to 10.3%.

With the unemployment rate for the United States at 4%, this seems like dismal news.

It’s not. The unemployment rate fell to 10.3 in June and July of 2017. The last time Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate was as low as 10.9% before that was 2008. It has been as high as 16.6% during the 21st century.

Should Puerto Rico have an unemployment rate far higher than that of any state? Of course not. Should the average wage be half that of the United States? Certainly not. As former Puerto Rico Attorney General Jose Fuentes said in an NBC interview, “They have created this economic model that has failed.”

Fuentes went on to say, “Puerto Rico on its own cannot fix the economy, because it has no political power to do that. Congress holds all the political power.”

Individuals, corporations, and investors can’t be expected to commit to Puerto Rico without a permanent status for the territory. As long as Puerto Rico’s political status is uncertain, hesitation is natural. Once Puerto Rico is on a path to statehood, Fuentes said firmly, “Capital will start flowing in.”

Fuentes is confident that Puerto Rico can repair the economy, as long as the Island is on the path to statehood.

The new economic numbers support that confidence. Under the most difficult circumstances, Puerto Rico is recovering. Unemployment and wages were improving in 2017. The hurricanes caused a drop… but only 2%. The U.S. as a whole saw a drop in average wages in the same time period. Given a level playing field, Puerto Rico can turn things around.

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