Description of the Urban Poor of Puerto Rico
Being the part of the urban poor is associated with a number of difficulties from several perspectives. First of all, poor people from Puerto Rico do not have an access to the decent housing. The majority of the urban poor have to live in shantytowns. They cannot purchase a land, as it remains public property. Thus, they can only buy and sell their shanties. Not all shanties are similar. Some of them have better conditions than others. Poor people can either purchase or rent shanties. Almost all rural immigrants have to settle in shantytowns, at least in the beginning. They usually settle in areas where they have friends or relatives. The flow of people in shantytowns is very intense, as the urban poor constantly adjust their settlement conditions to their financial opportunities. If their incomes increase, they can purchase or even build better houses.
The urban poor go through difficult conditions earning their living. The majority of them are employed as unskilled laborers. Men are generally occupied in the blue-collar spheres. Some people are employed in restaurants, hotels, and other tourist-oriented occupations. Both factory and service jobs are highly unstable, and all employees experience significant risks of losing their jobs at any moment. Therefore, those insecurities that exist in traditional agricultural jobs are also present in urban jobs. As wages are typically the only sources of income for the urban poor, the dynamics of their employment and living conditions usually coincide. If they are able to find a well paid job, their real incomes increase. Consequently, they invest their funds in housing, and their living conditions improve. The opposite situation is also possible. If a given person looses his/her job, his/her income decreases, and he/she has to find a less expensive housing.
Although the urban poor experience very difficult conditions, they have almost no choice. The reason is that the situation in the countryside is even more problematic and dangerous. People in the countryside have almost no employment opportunities. The existing agricultural jobs are low-paid and do not allow enjoying even the minimum standards of living. Moreover, as agricultural jobs are available only during specific seasons, people do not have any jobs during the rest of the year. The situation in the city is also unstable, but employees can at least find another job. In the countryside, they have absolutely no alternatives. Thus, the main factors that “push” people into leaving are economic ones. As there are no opportunities and conditions that can allow enjoying at least the minimally acceptable standards of living, people have to search for other options.
As a large number of poor people in Puerto Rico have to leave their rural regions, they have to determine the optimal alternative for employment. These people have almost no choice and have to move to the cities, especially if they have some relatives or friends there. Relatives and friends may help them find at least the most unskillful job that will provide poor immigrants with some financial resources. Immigrants also tend to settle at regions occupied by their relatives or friends. Their further progress depends entirely on their productivity and the demand for their labor. Thus, the main factors that “pull” people into the city are economic (higher availability of jobs) and social ones (relationships with friends and relatives). This tendency may continue for a long period of time until the economic situation in rural regions improves. If people do not have any opportunities in the countryside, they will have to move to the cities, as it is the only way to earn at least some money.
Although many factors may lead to the state when people become poor, I do not suggest that laziness is the main factor, especially in such countries as Puerto Rico. Many developed countries have a large amount of social and professional opportunities. Thus, almost everything depends on people’s motivation, desire, and ability to work. However, the situation in countries like Puerto Rico is very different. The members of low social classes cannot substantially improve their living conditions, even if they demonstrate the highest productivity and desire to work. The first problem is the lack of education. As a high-quality education is expensive in all countries of the world, people should possess the necessary amounts of funds for receiving the access to these opportunities. If their initial financial conditions are unsatisfactory, children do not have any opportunities even if they possess all the necessary skills and talents.
In general, education is of a very low quality in Puerto Rico. It may be explained by several reasons. First, the level of productivity in the country is low, and the entire production process is labor, rather than capital-intensive. As a result, the demand for a high-skilled workforce is low. Second, other countries such as the United States do not consider Puerto Rico to be the optimal country for international exchange in the sphere of high technologies. They believe that Puerto Rico is suitable only as a source of cheap labor force. Therefore, international factors also do not contribute to the development of education in the country.
Consequently, poor people from Puerto Rico have to orient exclusively on low-skilled segments of the labor market. They cannot obtain the skills that may be necessary in other occupations because they have no opportunities for it, and the demand for high-paid jobs in Puerto Rico is absent.
It is difficult to objectively state whether the poor people of Puerto Rico are fatalistic or not. On the one hand, they try to change their miserable conditions. The fact that they migrate to cities and try to find better employment opportunities shows that they do not want to be passive objects in the existing social and economic system. On the other hand, all their actions correspond to the dominant structure of social differentiation. The level of opportunities of lower classes is much lower in comparison with other classes. It seems that poor people from Puerto Rico do not make any substantial actions to change the situation in this context.
However, it may be attributed not only to fatalism but also to the lack of education and a proper understanding of the role of political means in the modern world. Poor people from Puerto Rico try to protect their own interests (or those of their friends and families); they do not aim at protecting the rights of their class. As a result, the existing social stratification continues to exist. If these people had the necessary level of education, they could understand that the optimal way to improve their social conditions is addressing the needs of the entire class. In this way, they could have additional professional and political opportunities. As these poor people do not comprehend all the relevant aspects, their strategies are incorrect. Even if they are successful in finding better employment, their overall conditions remain unsatisfactory.
Although some fatalism may exist (as it is present in almost all countries and nations), it is not the main factor creating problems for poor people from Puerto Rico. They try to improve their situation as far as they understand it. However, the lack of education and political knowledge does not allow them to make correct choices and develop efficient strategies.
These people’s community life is very different, in comparison with the representatives of high social classes. The shantytown community tends to rely on secondary social associations that arise in the process of urbanization. They are characterized by lower specialization and utilitarianism. Community members do not experience depersonalization and their relationships with each other are not subject for formal regulations. All personal relationships are highly widespread; they are non-utilitarian because people understand that their living conditions are highly unstable, and they can experience problems at any point of time. Therefore, they prefer to help each other regularly. This way, they can also receive some help and assistance when they need it.
The majority of poor Puerto Ricans are Catholics. However, it does not help to neutralize the existing social stratification. As poor people typically do not belong to any charitable organizations related to the Catholic Church, they do not possess the same opportunities than the representatives of upper classes. They attend some religious events in different hours, in relation to other people. Thus, the level of any social contacts with other classes through religious channels is minimal. The interests of the urban poor are not properly presented by any political party. Although some of them make some appeals to the problems of poor people, it only serves as a source of obtaining additional political opportunities, rather than the desire to help the poor. The majority of poor Puerto Ricans are strongly nationalistic. However, it creates problems in developing their class consciousness. As a result, the protection of their class interests is not properly organized. The country’s improvement is highly problematic without the effective promotion of the interests of the urban poor through political means.