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In the ten months that have passed since Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the Caribbean, much interest has been focused on Puerto Rico and its roughly 3.3 million American citizens, who weathered the largest blackout in U.S. history. However, far less attention has been paid to the U.S. Virgin Islands, even though St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, and a number of smaller islands suffered comparable devastation. This is partly attributable to their much smaller population: the U.S. Virgin Islands (“Virgin Islands”) is home to roughly 105,000 people—1/30th Puerto Rico’s population. Even so, this territory is also part of the United States and the New York Fed’s district. In this post, we examine roughly six months of economic and related data on the Virgin Islands’ economy to better ascertain the extent of disruption and subsequent recovery from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Jaison R. Abel, Jason Bram, Richard Deitz, and Jonathan Hastings
An examination of the fallout from Hurricanes Irma and Maria on the economies of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands was the focus of an economic press briefing today at the New York Fed. Both U.S. territories were suffering from significant economic downturns and fiscal stress well before the storms hit in September 2017, raising concerns about their paths to recovery.
Just two weeks after most of Puerto Rico dodged the proverbial bullet, missing the brunt of Hurricane Irma, the island was devastated by Maria—one of the ten strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record. Making landfall on September 20, 2017, the storm caused not only massive physical destruction and tragic loss of life but also widespread and persistent power outages, shortages of potable (and even nonpotable) running water, and disruptions to telecommunications and travel, among other issues. With the storm boosting costs and disrupting activity, the short-term economic impact is clearly significant. But an even greater concern is that the adverse short-term effects of the storm, overlaid on an already shrinking economy, may evolve into long-term adverse effects. In this post, we focus on the magnitude, duration, breadth and nature of the economic disruptions, as measured mostly by employment.
Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, Magali Solimano, and Wilbert van der Klaauw
Debt and its performance play a critical role in economic development. The enormous increase in mortgage debt that took place during the run-up to the 2007 financial crisis and the contribution of that debt to the crisis underscore the importance of household debt to financial stability and economic growth. While we regularly report on household debt at the national level and for selected states in our Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, we have not reported separately on Puerto Rico. This post introduces metrics on household debt in Puerto Rico, which we plan to update regularly. Like our other reports on household debt, this analysis uses our FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel, which is based on anonymized credit data from Equifax. We also take a look at some data for Puerto Rico’s banking sector to complete the picture of household debt for the Commonwealth.
Rajashri Chakrabarti, Giacomo De Giorgi, and Rachel Schuh
Educational attainment is an important element of human capital; however a series of recent papers highlights the crucial role of the quality of education—which determines the skills actually learned, rather than the number of years spent in a classroom—as a main driver of growth. In fact, Hanushek and Woessmann argue that the importance of more appropriately measuring skills is seen in the very tight relationship between quality of skills, or knowledge capital, and growth. Moreover, the researchers state, “The knowledge capital–growth relationship suggests little mystery for East Asia, Latin America, or other regions: Growth rates are accounted for by cognitive skills.” Similarly, “Considering knowledge capital dramatically increases our ability to account for differences in growth.”
A key concern about Puerto Rico’s prospects is that its labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the adult population either working or looking for work, has fallen sharply. Looking at the data shows that this decline cannot be attributed to any particular demographic segment. Instead, it is the consequence of an aging population, accelerated by a falling birth rate and outmigration of a relatively young cohort. Expected demographic trends will continue to put downward pressure on the participation rate over the medium term, creating a challenging headwind for the economy to overcome.
Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today released its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for the second quarter of 2016. It showed that overall household debt increased modestly over the period, with subdued mortgage originations and moderate but continued increases in non-housing related credit—particularly auto loans and credit cards. The total outstanding credit card balance now stands at $729 billion, up $17 billion from the first quarter, but still well below the peak of $866 billion reached in the fourth quarter of 2008. Credit card delinquency rates have continued to improve since peaking in 2008. We have previously “looked under the hood” of auto loans, and in this post, we present analysis that provides new insight into credit card debt by examining trends in credit card issuance and usage. The Quarterly Report and the following analyses are based on data from the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel, which is a nationally representative sample drawn from Equifax credit reports.
Jaison R. Abel, Giacomo De Giorgi, Richard Deitz, and Harry Wheeler
Given Puerto Rico’s long-term economic malaise and ongoing fiscal crisis, it is no wonder that out-migration of the Island’s residents has picked up. Over the past five years alone, migration has resulted in a net outflow of almost 300,000 people, a staggering loss. It would make matters worse, however, if Puerto Rico were losing an outsized share of its highest-paid workers. But we find that, if anything, Puerto Rico’s migrants are actually tilted somewhat toward the lower end of the skills and earnings spectrum. Still, such a large outflow of potentially productive workers and taxpayers is an alarming trend that is likely to have profound consequences for the Island for years to come.
Puerto Rico’s economic and fiscal challenges have been an important focus of work done here at the New York Fed, resulting in two reports (2012 and 2014), several blog posts and one paper in our Current Issues series in just the last few years. As the Commonwealth’s problems have deepened, the Obama administration and Congress have begun discussing potential approaches to addressing them. In this post, we update our previous estimates of Puerto Rico’s outstanding debt and discuss the effect that various forms of bankruptcy protection might have on the Commonwealth.
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.
The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Asani Sarkar, all economists in the Bank’s Research Group.
The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.
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