Families grapple with economic changes in Puerto Rico

Global Business

It’s been called the “Greece of the Caribbean.” Unable to service debts incurred by bond sales for public utilities, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is literally struggling to keep the lights on.

CCTV America’s Jessica Stone reports from Puerto Rico as the territory faces a historic default on more than $70 billion in bond repayments it can’t make.

Families grapple with economic changes in Puerto Rico

More than 330,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island in the last 15 years. CCTV America’s Jessica Stone reported this story from Puerto Rico.

Judy and Eglaim Rodriguez have always loved working with children. Judy worked with students as a school social worker for 32 years and Eglaim spent 27 years teaching them physical education.

When Eglaim retired, he began living on his teacher’s pension of $1,700 a month.

Ten years later, Judy retired after being diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.

She receives $2,400 a month from her pension, but the medicine she requires costs hundreds of dollars.

Six years ago, their son, Elgaim, moved in with his 5-year-old son, Eydam, two stepdaughters and wife, Ruby.

Elgaim lost his restaurant job when a local pharmaceutical company left the island, no longer tethered to Puerto Rico by favorable tax breaks.

Over the past decade, Puerto Rico’s government sank deeper into debt through lost manufacturing jobs and its underfunded public healthcare system.

The government sold municipal bonds to cover its spending. Now, Puerto Rico is $72 billion in debt without the ability to pay.

More than 330,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island in the last 15 years.

Many young and in their working years have moved to the U.S. mainland to start over. Eglaim has considered moving, too.

But Eglaim and his brother Victor don’t want to abandon their parents. They worry about their mother’s health, as well as a new worry:

If the Rodriguez’s lose their pensions, they have no other safety net to rely on.

The U.S. Congress is working on a solution, too — a bill called Promesa. It’ll create a financial control board to decide how to restructure the island’s debt and pay it off.

As Puerto Rico grapples with deadlines to repay bond holders, this family hopes for an economic turnaround so they can stay together on the island home that they love.

Analyst Justin Velez-Hagan on Puerto Rico’s future

For more on Puerto Rico’s future, CCTV America’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Justin Velez-Hagan, the economic policy analyst and Researcher at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. He’s also the Founder of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce.