Protests for higher wages in Puerto Rico underscore national debate
On February 18, tambourines, whistles, and other noisemakers pervaded the atmosphere of San Juan, Puerto Rico, outside the governor’s residence. Fueled by public employees’ struggle for better working conditions, protestors in San Juan held up signs demanding “Fair Wages Now!,” a sentiment shared by many people across the US.
Puerto Rico has, until recently, had the federal minimum wage, despite one of the highest costs of living in the country. Governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D) signed a law in September 2021, marking the first time in 12 years Puerto Rico has raised the minimum wage, from $7.25 to $8.50. Though many appreciate this policy, nearly 44% of Puerto Ricans live in poverty, according to last year’s census report. Some believe that because of the territory’s high cost of living, the new minimum wage is still not sufficient to raise a significant number of people out of poverty, due to various expenses such as water and electricity bills which represent a disproportionate financial burden on Puerto Ricans.
The demands for better pay and benefits for teachers and public-sector workers in San Juan are reflective of a broader national issue. The struggle of insufficient pension benefits and wages that galvanized Puerto Ricans to take action is one that people across the US can empathize with. This peaceful movement of teachers and government workers carrying out a national day of strikes across the territory, is, however, unique with some respect to the wider national movement to raise minimum wages.
The continued protests in Puerto Rico are indications of significant social upheaval over the exorbitant cost of living in the territory. This unrest is a clear indicator of social inequality across America. With such a remarkable demonstration in mind, the main question one might ask is will the protests’ demands be met?