In Puerto Rico, US Tax Policy and Slow Aid Response Spurs Soaring Unemployment

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Beyond the commonly-reported physical damage, Hurricane Maria exacerbated an already poor economic situation in Puerto Rico. The hurricane hit the island on September 20, 2017, and months later little has improved. At the end of December 2017, two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s small or mid-sized businesses were still closed and businesses that remained open were frequently open fewer hours due to continued power outages. Unemployment was the highest it had been in more than a decade, standing at 10.8 per cent, or 118,000 people. To add to this, a new tax bill created by the Trump administration is predicted to cut another 200,000 jobs.

Because of its already-suffering economy, Puerto Rico struggled to right itself after Hurricane Maria, and a slow aid response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) left the island without crucial aid in the first months after the hurricane. The US Department of Labor data indicates that in October 2017, Puerto Rican employers had the highest payroll cuts the island has seen in over 20 years. Unemployment benefits have also been slow process, if they come through at all. Many people who were supposed to be receiving monthly unemployment payments say they have not seen any money yet.

Although there was much initial corporate media coverage of the physical damage caused by the hurricane in Puerto Rico, there was minimal discussion of the economic impacts or follow-up to the crisis months after. An exception was the article “Maria’s Bodies” in New York Magazine. Among articles on the economic impacts of Hurricane Maria from alternative media sources, Green Left Weekly (October 5, 2017) and the World Socialist Web Site (December 28, 2017) looked past the physical damage to deeper issues and followed up on the aftermath,  long after establishment media had moved on to other topics.

Sources:

Mattathias Schwartz, “Maria’s Bodies,” New York Magazine, December 22, 2017, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/12/hurricane-maria-man-made-disaster.html.

Barry Sheppard, “Puerto Rico devastation badly worsened by US treatment – before and after the hurricanes,” Green Left Weekly, October 5, 2017, https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/puerto-rico-devastation-badly-worsened-us-treatment-%E2%80%94-and-after-hurricanes.

Genevieve Leigh and Zac Corrigan, “Months after hurricane, Puerto Rican workers face worsening jobs crisis,” World Socialist Web Site, December 28, 2017,  https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/12/28/rico-d28.html.

Student Researcher: Lynn Giesbrecht (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluators:  Janelle Blakley and Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)