Puerto Rico’s Economy Continues to Decline

Morayma Reyes Alejandro Garcia Padilla, governor of Puerto Rico, has referred to the island as being in an economic “death spiral.” Monday marked a historical moment in the spiral, when Puerto Rico went into default for the first time ever. Paying back a mere $628,000 to creditors of its Public Finance Corporation of the $58 million debut bill on Monday, those who will be hurt the most by going into default will be the island’s residents. Most of the debt is owned by Puerto Ricans through credit unions.

The government is strategically choosing to not pay its debt due to creditors of the PFC because the entities that own the debt have little legal power to fight back in court. While other debt, some of which is controlled by Wall Street hedge funds, were paid on Monday, due to their legal clout. “This was a decision that reflects the serious concerns about the Commonwealth’s liquidity in combination with the balance of obligations to our creditors and the equally important obligations to the people of Puerto Rico,” said Melba Acosta Febo, president of Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank.

While Puerto Rico has the same amount of outstanding debt as New York state, it’s economy isn’t nearly what it is in the Empire State, with Puerto Rico’s value at $69 billion, and New York at $1.2 trillion. Former government employee Omar Rodriguez recently left the island first the first time to move to Austin, Texas where he works at a restaurant and as an assistant teacher. “I wouldn’t imagine having the same quality of life in Puerto Rico at the moment and that saddens me,” said Rodriguez.

Unemployment in Puerto Rico is almost double the rate in mainland United States, which is driving Puerto Ricans to flee in the island in search of firmer economic ground. With a shrinking population comes a reduced tax base, making it nearly impossible for the island to pay back its debts. To top it all off, Puerto Rico is also experiencing a severe drought with the government rationing water and some families going without running water for days.

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