Puerto Ricans Face ‘Sacrifice Everywhere’ on an Insolvent Island

Although the move on Wednesday was hardly a surprise, it left a sense of gloom and anxiety here, as civil servants question whether their pensions will ever be paid and private companies suffer the consequences of the brutal domino effect that results when taxes rise, salaries drop and the middle class takes off on a mass exodus for Florida.

“I’m going to stay here, even if I make only $1,” Mr. Rivera said.

The government plans sweeping austerity measures in the coming months that will hit teachers especially hard. On Friday, Puerto Rico’s education secretary announced a proposal to close 184 schools. Teachers may see their hours trimmed by two days a month.

So while the government seeks protection from lawsuits from the hedge funds and other financial firms that invested in Puerto Rico’s risky debt, residents of this United States territory are taking the squeeze. Fines for parking and other traffic violations have doubled. Dozens of government agencies are on the chopping block, while perks like the annual Christmas bonus and pay for unused sick time make for wistful memories.

On an island where household electric bills often reach hundreds of dollars, residents are worried that their future has been placed in the hands of strangers — an oversight board and a federal judge — who may or may not feel much empathy for American citizens whose per capita income is about $15,000 but who pay $6.25 for a gallon of milk and have an 11.5 percent sales tax.

“At some point I will have to decide whether I live in a house, or with medical insurance,” said Mr. González, 55, a retired electronics teacher. “And the food?” he said, letting the thought trail off.

His pension is about $1,900 a month, of which $556 goes to pay his family’s medical plan.


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