The entirety of the United States has been hit economically since the start of the pandemic. However, Puerto Rico has been suffering more harshly than the rest of the 50 states due to their status as a territory. Looking at certain economic markers, we see how the economy of Puerto Rico is consistently lagging behind the rest of the United States.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Data (bls.gov), the national unemployment rate as of May 2023 is 3.7%, which is 0.1% higher than in May 2022 and 2.1% lower than in May 2021. Currently, as of April 2023, the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico is 6.0%, which is equal to the unemployment rate of April 2022 and 2.1% lower than the unemployment rate in April 2021. What this shows is that while Puerto Rico has been experiencing similar economic trends as the mainland since the end of the pandemic, the rates at which they experience them are higher than elsewhere.
For inflation, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to measure the changes in inflation. For the entire United States, the CPI measures 303.363 for the month of April 2023 and 289.296 for the month of May 2022. This is a 4% increase in the CPI over the 12 months, which reflects the state of inflation the United States has been experiencing since the transition from pandemic response to endemic response. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have the CPI listed for any territories as it does for the states, which makes it harder to measure the differences, however using the information provided by the government of Puerto Rico and the Economic Development Bank for Puerto Rico, we are able to see the CPI rates which are 0.3% for the month of April 2023 and 1.3% for April 2022. When it comes to inflation rates, Puerto Rico has actually been better off than the rest of the country.
As for wages, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics only has information up until the third quarter of 2022 for the entire United States and every Industry; however, in the third quarter of that year, the US average weekly wage was $1,334. The previous year in the third quarter, the average weekly wage was $1,250 showing a national increase in the average weekly earnings across the country. That leads to a national increase of 6% in wages. In Puerto Rico, the difference in wage data is clear. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, In the third quarter of 2022, the average weekly wage was $616, and in the third quarter of 2021, the weekly average was $568. That is an 8% increase. While the increases in wages are higher than in the rest of the country, Puerto Ricans and anyone who works on the islands are paid at a lower rate than most of the country.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy in 2016. Following this, the US Congress created the US Government Accountability Office, or GAO, which reports on the fiscal state of the US territories every two years. In the most recent addition, the report indicated that while Puerto Rico is making progress at paying off their debt, they still have a long way to go. Currently, Puerto Rico’s debt is at $28.6 billion dollars, which is a substantial drop from the previous $63.1 billion they were at prior to restructuring their debt. However, until Puerto Rico is able to pay off their debt, this will be another obstacle they are forced to overcome for economic prosperity.
After looking at the evidence provided by both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Puerto Rican government, it is plain to see that Puerto Rico’s economy is suffering more than most of the country. What remains to be seen is if inflation continues to worsen in the United States, will the gap in economic disparities between the 50 states and Puerto Rico grow.