On Monday, I highlighted the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico. The island’s governor announced that it cannot fully pay back its $70 billion in outstanding debt. Much of the attention this week has focused on how Puerto Rico has mismanaged its finances. San Juan has delayed necessary reforms. But missing in most news articles is the role that Washington, D.C. has played in creating the mess.
Over at Fox News, I have a new piece describing how the federal government has contributed to the island’s problems.
For instance, the federal minimum wage contributes to Puerto Rico’s challenges:
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour applies on the island. The minimum wage’s effects are well-known, but it has disproportionate influence in Puerto Rico. The island’s median income is only 40 percent of the mainland. Twenty-eight percent of Puerto Rico residents earn $8.50 an hour or less, compared to 3 percent on the mainland. So the minimum wage has greater impact in Puerto Rico. It would be like if the mainland had a $19 an hour minimum wage. The high minimum wage raises the cost of employment and prices many employers out of the market, causing unemployment to rise and thus tax revenue to dry up. The minimum wage is a partly why the island’s unemployment rate is almost three times that of the mainland.
Similarly, the 1920 Jones Act limits Puerto Rico’s ability to import and export goods efficiently:
Islands have higher-than-normal transportation costs due to their remote locations, but a pre-New Deal era law drives up the cost even more for Puerto Rico. The Jones Act decrees that goods being shipped between U.S. ports must be on U.S. chartered ships with a U.S. crew. That means goods coming from the mainland can’t come on the most cost-competitive vessel. They must go with one of four U.S. shippers operating that route. The limited competition increases costs. Puerto Rico’s shipping costs are twice those of its island neighbors, making items more expensive to purchase on the island. It also limits Puerto Rico’s ability to export its products to the mainland.
The piece also discusses how poor tax policy and lavish entitlement benefits are contributing to the debt crisis.
Puerto Rico is suffering from decades of poor fiscal management, but it’s not the only government who contributed to the crisis. Washington has also played a staring role.