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Puerto Rico still faces a long road to recovery after Gov. Ricardo Rossello resigns

Puerto Rican celebrities including Residente, Bad Bunny and Ricky Martin join demonstrators during a protest calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello in San Juan, Puerto Rico July 22, 2019.
Marco Bello | Reuters
Key Points
  • Puerto Rico's next governor, who will fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Ricardo Rosello, faces an uphill fight to restore the island's battered economy and reverse an ongoing diaspora.
  • Many of those challenges stem from a single underlying issue: Puerto Rico is suffering from a prolonged bout of out-migration, affecting its ability to respond to its financial and economic crises effectively.
  • The decline in population has been driven mainly by a dearth of economic opportunity, as Puerto Rico's economy failed to join the wider U.S. recovery following the Great Recession.

Puerto Rico's next governor, who will fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Ricardo Rossello, faces an uphill fight to restore the island's battered economy and reverse an ongoing diaspora.

Rossello announced Wednesday night he would resign effective Aug. 2, following the leak of crude and insulting messages sent between him and his top advisors mocking constituents and other government officials.

Rossello is the only Puerto Rico governor to resign in modern history. It's not yet clear whether the government will now be led by his presumptive successor, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez, or someone else. No matter who fills the job, the island faces a mountain of challenges.

Many of those challenges stem from a single underlying issue: Puerto Rico is suffering from a prolonged bout of out-migration, affecting its ability to respond to its financial and economic crises effectively.

While the United States as a whole averaged a 5.8% growth in population from 2010-2018, Puerto Rico dramatically moved in the opposite direction, averaging a 14.14% decline in population in the same period.

The population decline has been driven mainly by a dearth of economic opportunity, as Puerto Rico's economy failed to join the wider U.S. recovery following the Great Recession of 2008.

That economic decline has deep roots, including the expiration of a tax credit in 2006 that allowed American companies to avoid corporate income taxes in U.S. territories. That led to an exodus from the business world, depriving much of the island of the money it relied on to fund itself.

The resulting underfunding of critical services such as electricity was exacerbated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which caused over $100 billion in damage.

The compounding of political mismanagement, natural disasters and economic strife has made it difficult for the island to retain its residents, who have opted to move to the mainland to a stronger job market.

The American economy has enjoyed the longest recovery in its history, according to statistics from the St. Louis Fed.

American job numbers have significantly improved since 2008 but not in Puerto Rico. Job numbers between the mainland and Puerto Rico trended alongside each other until the recession, when Puerto Rico took a nosedive that it still has not recovered from.

The mainland has added jobs at an average rate of 15% since 2000, while the island has lost jobs at an average of 13% in the same time frame.

With its economy now contracting, the island's government has even less revenue to devote to rebuilding key infrastructure, including an outdated electrical grid, and provide needed social services for the Puerto Ricans who remain.

Puerto Rican celebrities including Residente, Bad Bunny and Ricky Martin join demonstrators during a protest calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello in San Juan, Puerto Rico July 22, 2019.
Marco Bello | Reuters