SAN JUAN – The unemployment rate in Puerto Rico stands at 16.5 percent, the highest of all U.S. jurisdictions, and the government is announcing even more layoffs of public employees.
“Puerto Rico is suffering its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but the scenario isn’t very different from the rest of the United States,” Labor and Human Resources Secretary Miguel Romero said on Monday.
He said that the number of unemployed in the U.S. commonwealth last month stood at 219,000, which is 51,000 more people than were without work in July 2008.
Romero acknowledged that the symptoms of economic weakness are more acute here than in the United States as a whole, with the island having been mired in a recession since May 2006, more than a year earlier than on the U.S. mainland.
The secretary also compared the island’s situation with several U.S. states, including Michigan, which has an unemployment rate of 15.6 percent, and Nevada, with 12.7 percent, to clarify that Puerto Rico’s circumstances are not as desperate as might be supposed in relation to certain other parts of the country.
He also focused on sending a message of hope by emphasizing that here the situation will improve between now and December thanks to the arrival of $1.9 billion in federal stimulus money.
Romero said that 21,000 jobs will be created thanks to those funds, which will serve, in part, to get certain infrastructure projects started.
The increase in unemployment, however, has not caused the island’s government to scale back its plans to lay off public workers, which according to initial figures could number up to 30,000.
Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño said with regard to the unemployment figures that “the economic situation is pretty difficult for the entire nation (the United States) and insofar as it includes the island, and that has repercussions for everyone.”
“This unemployment rate is a reflection of the economic situation that is being experienced on the world level and, as an example, we can mention about 15 U.S. states that have a (jobless) index that has gone into double digits,” he said to help justify the situation Puerto Rico is going through.
The Fortuño administration is maintaining its target for reductions in public spending of $2 billion and to do that it has laid off 7,000 public employees so far.
The head of the Banco Gubermental de Fomento, Carlos Garcia, said last week that the administration is only 15 percent of the way toward that goal, and so the government is analyzing a new bout of firings.
By sectors, over the past year, 9,400 jobs have been lost in manufacturing, 11,000 in construction, 10,500 in retailing, 5,200 in services and 4,400 in finance. EFE