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Two years after hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the two territories’ economies have moved in very different directions. When the hurricanes struck, both were already in long economic slumps and had significant fiscal problems. As of the summer of 2019, however, Puerto Rico’s economy was showing considerable signs of improvement since the hurricanes, while the Virgin Islands’ economy remained mired in a deep slump through the end of 2018, though signs of a nascent recovery have emerged in 2019. In this post, we assess the contrasting trends of these two economies since the hurricanes and attempt to explain the forces driving these trends.
Jaison R. Abel, Jason Bram, Richard Deitz, and Jonathan Hastings
The New York Fed today unveiled a newly designed website on the regional economy that offers convenient access to a wide array of regional data, analysis, and research that the Bank makes available to the public. Focusing specifically on the Federal Reserve’s Second District, which includes New York State, Northern New Jersey, Southwestern Connecticut, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the new site also features information about the Bank's community engagement and outreach efforts across the region. With today’s release, we are providing new regional economic précis for local areas in our District—that is, short reports that give an overview of economic trends in each location; these reports will be updated regularly as new data are released.
Puerto Rico recently observed the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria—the most destructive storm to hit the Commonwealth since the San Felipe Segundo hurricane in 1928. Maria, combined with Hurricane Irma, which had glanced the island about two weeks prior, is estimated to have caused nearly 3,000 deaths and tens of billions of dollars of physical damage. Millions went without power for weeks, in most cases months. Basic services—water, sewage, telecommunications, medical care, schools—suffered massive disruptions. While it is difficult to assign a cost to all the suffering endured by Puerto Rico’s population, we can now at least get a better read on the economic effect of the storms. In this blog post, we look at a few key economic indicators to gauge the negative effects of the storms and the extent of the subsequent rebound—not only for the Commonwealth as a whole, but for its various geographic areas and industry sectors. We also examine data from the New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel to assess how well households held up financially and what effects the home mortgage foreclosure and payment moratoria had.
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 F. 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 F. 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.
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.
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