Problems of Puerto Rico

October 30, 1942

Report Outline
Economic Impact of War on Puerto Rico
Basic Political and Economic Problems
Wartime Emergencies in Puerto Rico

Economic Impact of War on Puerto Rico

External Trade and the War Shortage of Ships

The war has had more disastrous effects upon the economy of Puerto Rico than of any other area now under the United States flag. The Puerto Rican legislature is now meeting in special session to deal with emergencies raised by the wartime shortage of shipping. In the Senate of the United States a resolution is pending which would authorize a “full and complete study and investigation with respect to economic and social conditions in Puerto Rico resulting from the interruption of the normal flow of trade.”

Puerto Rico's agricultural economy is based almost entirely upon the production of non-food cash crops, principally sugar, for export to the continental United States, the income being used to pay for food and other materials imported from the mainland. The severe curtailment of imports made necessary by the lack of ships has led to sharp rises in foodstuff prices and to the development of a black market on the Island. At the same time, reduced export trade has depressed income and increased unemployment. The situation may be aggravated, rather than mitigated, as the war lengthens because the demand for ships will rise as the fighting fronts increase. Defense construction and installation work, which temporarily reduced unemployment on the Island in 1940-41, has practically ceased. Lack of raw materials precludes the development of war industries.

Wartime Depression of Island Living Standards

Any decline from the normal living standard of Island residents results in a much more serious situation than the same degree of decline would produce in continental United States. In the Island's most prosperous years, the mass of Puerto Ricans led a more precarious existence than that group of their fellow-citizens on the mainland who were once encompassed in the phrase “one-third of a nation ill-fed, ill-housed, and ill-clothed.” The basic factors condemning Puerto Rico to a low living standard are a population of more than 1,900,000 people, on a relatively non-fertile island 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. The population density of 550 persons per square mile, compared to 48 persons to a square mile in continental United States, makes the Island one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Furthermore, the population is increasing at the rate of approximately 30,000 a year.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Puerto Rico
Oct. 23, 1998  Puerto Rico's Status
Feb. 08, 1991  Puerto Rico: The Struggle Over Status
May 28, 1971  Puerto Rico After Bootstrap
Jun. 26, 1963  Puerto Rico and the Union
Oct. 30, 1942  Problems of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico and other Territories
U.S. at War: World War II
War and Conflict