In Puerto Rico, 45 percent of the population lives in poverty, and the unemployment rate is a solid 15 percent.
Those numbers aren't a good sign for any area of the United States, least of all an island whose name translates to “Rich Port.” But after years of recession, Puerto Rico's debt crisis finally seems to have reached a day of reckoning.
Officials have opened a public campaign to field ideas for how to fix the crisis once and for all.
A government website is accepting suggestions, and close to 400 ideas have been submitted. At least 150 have been accepted by a government committee for consideration. Among the ideas to be considered are calls legalize marijuana and prostitution, and to drastically cut back the amount of public holidays that workers on the island celebrate.
These dramatic solutions would require public hearing, legislative approval, and Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s signature, according to the Associated Press report. The chances for marijuana or prostitution becoming legal are unclear, at best. Over seven-in-ten Puerto Ricans oppose legalizing pot, according to a poll conducted last November by the island's largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia.
In addition to these proposals, the governor’s office is preparing to submit the commonwealth’s first balanced budget in decades — a move that could be politically risky, considering the government is the island's largest employer.
“We are studying all alternatives and all possibilities,” Sen. Maria Teresa Gonzalez told the AP. “Change always brings inconvenience. I’m convinced that before we talk about something as dramatic and disastrous as layoffs, we have to consider other ideas.”
Ideas for how to address government spending have been broken into several categories, each of which address some of the central problems plaguing Puerto Rico's economy. These include bringing the widespread underground economy into the taxpaying fold, addressing the brain drain of the youth population to the mainland U.S. as well as the island's aging population and working on raising low labor-force participation rates.
Here are a few of the proposed ideas, (some way out there, and some more practical):
Require unemployed workers to work on farms owned by the state.
Releasing certain elderly prisoners from jail.
Legalize and regulate prostitution and sex work.
Create a program to get coffee cultivation back up to past levels. Puerto Rico was once known worldwide for its coffee, but the coffee production hit an all time low just last year.