NJPPA Photographer of the Year - 2002 / poy_nlab_20puertorico
Noah Addis/Star Ledger
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Puerto Rico: A Struggling Economy - Fifty years after Puerto Rico became a U.S. commonwealth,a faltering economy hangs like a storm cloud over this Caribbean island of 3.8 million people. Decades of steady economic gains have stalled, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and frustration.

Forty-eight percent of the population live below the federal poverty line, and unemployment hovers at 13 percent, according to the 2000 Census. Per capita income is just $9,870, less than half that of Mississippi, the poorest U.S. state.

The once-thriving manufacturing sector, which transformed Puerto Rico from a backwater sugar plantation a half-century ago into a modern industrial center, has lost 28,000 jobs since 1996, when Congress began phasing out tax breaks that made the island a haven for overseas investors. After outstripping most of the 50 states in manufacturing growth for many years, Puerto Rico has fallen to dead last.

Here, Miriam Molina, 52, looks out through the fence around her home in the Punta Diamente neighborhood of Ponce, Puerto Rico on Friday, 10/11/2002. Molina, who works in the kitchen of a cafe for less than minimum wage, has lived in the squatter's village since 1997. They have only had electricity and other city services for the last two years. She would like to leave Puerto Rico for the mainland of the United States.

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