Luxury Poverty

If being poor is expensive then living under colonial rule is baller. Between an 11.5% and the Jones Act, goods in Puerto Rico are very expensive. With the passing of the PROMESA Act, Borikuas and other residence may face even greater economic challenges both as a nation and individually. 

At the time of writing this I have been living in Portland for five years and some of the comparisons I will be making will be with Oregon summer 2016 and Puerto Rico summer 2016. 

In Portland, Oregon you have the option of taking the bus, light rail, or streetcar. You can get a pass for 2.5 hours for $2.50 with unlimited transfers for that time window on to any of those vehicles. The system is reliable except in bad weather and bridge raisings. All vehicles in Portland’s public transportation fleet can transport bicycles. 

In the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico, the bus fare is $.75 no transfer. Their schedule is unpredictable and there is no reliable app to track the bus. They do not go very far so you have to walk or pay for another bus when you transfer. There is the Tren Urbano, 10.7 mile long train system that runs through part of the western part of the metro area. The fare for the train $1.50 and you get one transfer but you can only use it from the station. You need to buy a card included in the price of the fare and it has to go through a device on the bus that reads it. Often the card does not work so a rider will have to pay $.75 for the fare. Then there are Carros P├║blicos, a kind of shared or public taxi. The cost starting at $1.00, not the most reliable or comfortable but more abundant and available than the bus system is during the day. 

The entire system operates on both local and federal funds. With so many people relying on public transportation for employment and access to services, any tampering with the system by the board could be devastating on top of the already destructive effects PROMESA will have. 

The minim wage in Puerto Rico is currently $7.25 and few people work 40hrs a week. Studio apartments on average are $600 in the metro area. You would have to work 82.7 hours to make that, assuming you are not paying income taxes. 

Assuming you were working 40 hrs. and not paying taxes, that leaves you with $560 a month. Say you live on the other side of town from where you work. You would need to take probably a bus and the train. With the bus being so unreliable you have to set out early. So that could be an extra hour or two of your day along with the $.75 for the bus and the $1.50 for the train. You just spent 2.25 and you may, if you’re lucky only have to spend that same amount for the trip home. That would be $4.50 every day for six days a week assuming your 40 hours being made at the same job and you work 8 hours a day. With an average of 4.47 weeks in a month, one could spend $120.69 a month on public transportation between home and work. That leaves $439.31 a month. Does not sound too bad, but anyone making minim wage probably does not have these ideal conditions to work with. 

The PROMESA Act will lower the minim wage to $4.25 an hour for people under 25 in their first 3 months of employment at a new job. So instead of working 82 hours to make rent for the studio one would have to put in 141 hours and have only $39.21 at the end of the month, after transportation and before taxes. All this under the same ideal conditions that no one is actually living under on the island. This model is a best case scenario in a difficult living situation.

Food is another huge expense on the island, much of the produce needs to be imported and thanks the Jones Act the cost are much higher than they would need to be. Foreign goods with imports destined for Puerto Rico have to travel to Jacksonville, Florida and be unloaded then reloaded onto US ships with US crews. Then they must travel 1462nm and 6 days to Puerto Rico. 

Say that you were a box of plantains from the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is only 254nm and 1 day away but you would travel 2816nm before making it to the supermarket in Rio Piedras, PR. 

All these steps cost money and distance will have an impact on cost. What is to keep the Fiscal Board from raising taxes on imports, similar to how the US had invaded the Dominican Republic to control their Customs authority?

Puerto Rico is considered a paradise by many tourist but it is a struggle for those that live and work on the island. Many people that provide the friendly tropical utopian facade may never have a vacation other than a few days off. Even in leisure the working poor of Boriken are struggling and working to make ends meet and to aces goods and services they need to be well enough to work. It is a luxury to live under capitalism and to struggle in a system that will exploit you and your body. With these wages and cost of living, surviving in Boriken with minim wage is the most baller thing someone can do.


  1. Regarding minimum wage: I believe the Act says that the Governor may decide to reduce the minimum wage. I hope the people are organizing against this.
    Great last paragraph! How true.
    Bob Brown, Jubilee Oregon

    1. It will not matter what the local government decides when the Junta is in place. The board can reject any plans and pressure the government into any direction they want. This election will be a symbolic waste of money.