Free «Fifth Essay Examination: The Urban Poor of Puerto Rico» Essay Paper

Fifth Essay Examination: The Urban Poor of Puerto Rico


Current paper investigates societal dynamics and trends that characterize lives of urban poor in Puerto Rico; shantytown dwellers that migrated from rural regions to metropolitan areas in search of a better life, greater employment opportunities, and higher wages. The paper describes living and working conditions of the poor, their community life, and attitudes towards poverty. Despite continuous hardships and the fact that their poverty is perpetuated by the lack of education, a majority of shantytown dwellers remain optimistic and hope for better life. However, although lacks of education is one of the reasons for poverty, main roots of poverty are in capitalist societal structure of Puerto Rico that fosters inequality and segregation and accounts for wide gap between the poor and the rest of population.

Answers to Questions

  1. What does it mean to be a part of the urban poor? Describe their housing and jobs – called “informal” housing and “informal” business/economy.

Urban poor are people who moved from a rural to an urban area in the hope of finding a better life but still remained very poor (Safa, 1974). Urban poor usually live in shantytowns or “informal” housing and have “informal” jobs. “Informal” housing means that houses resemble illegal constructions built out of weak and temporary materials at hand without any permits. Usually, people build informal housing by themselves on outlying, marginal public land near preindustrial cities. The housing has all the indications of poverty, such as inadequate water and sanitation, as well as impassable streets during the rainy seasons. 83 percent of the dwellers own their house while remaining 17 percent rent a place to live in (Safa, 1974). The majority of houses have one bedroom; some have two-three bedrooms while others are single-room shacks. Some houses are well kept and painted while others have holes in the floor and deteriorated porches and need major repairs.

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Most of men from shanty towns are employed as unskilled laborers and have blue-collar occupations at docks, factories or construction sites. Others are employed as service workers in hotels, restaurants or other tourism-related businesses. However, most of the aforementioned jobs are “informal” since they do not offer stability or economic security since many employment opportunities are seasonal or temporary. Notably, skilled workers have a better chance of finding a securing long-term employment.

  1. Why do people migrate from the countryside to live in the city if they remain so poor and the conditions there are so miserable? What are the factors that “push” people into leaving and what factors “pull” people to get into the city?

While migrants live in shantytowns in miserable conditions and remain poor, they choose to move from the countryside to live near cities because living conditions and employment opportunities in stagnant rural areas are significantly worse than in poor urban districts. For example, dead season in rural areas lasts four to five month. Furthermore, since many rural workers live on farms where they work, they are dependent on their employer for labor, housing, and other necessities. Thus, lack of employment opportunities and very low pay in rural areas pushes people to migrate to the urban ones. Some former rural residents owned land and were involved in agriculture, but many sold their plots and migrated to urban areas because market decline resulted in the situation when crops lost value. In comparison, urban areas promise great independence, employment opportunities, and high wages as factors that attract new migrants. Moreover, while a yearly wage in rural area is less than US $500, an unskilled worker with the lowest pay in the city earns twice as much per year. One third of shanty dwellers earn US $1000-$2000 a year while one quarter of workers earns US $2000-$3000 yearly (Safa, 1974). Therefore, higher pay is one of the main factors that accounts for inflow of new migrants.

  1. Why are people poor in your opinion? Is it because they are lazy? (And why are they lazy?) Or is it because they lack education? Or is it because there are no jobs for the kinds of skills they have (which can work back to an education problem)? (And why is education so bad in Puerto Rico?)

An analysis of the Safa’s (1974) study indicates that there are several reasons behind poverty, and laziness is not one of them. First, the vast majority of shantytown dwellers lack education and marketable skills that could qualify them for jobs that can secure better pay. Therefore, the fact that vast majority of shantytown residents remain on the lower end of labor market accounts for low wages and subsequent poverty. In her description of a shantytown of Los Peloteros, Safa (1974) shows that the culture of Los Peloteros was not merely a culture of poverty, but one that developed within it a variety of life styles. Second, there are wider social circumstances that reinforce a system of inequality in capitalist, colonial society that Puerto Rico remains. Third, poor people frequently lack the drive and confidence to get out of the cycle of poverty. Many of them tend to view themselves as unable or inadequate to benefit from opportunities that growing economy offers. Lastly, since most migrants moved from rural areas and enjoy significantly better pay than they formerly did in rural areas, many tend to become complacent and content with what they achieved, lacking drive to advance further and strive for greater gains. For example, Safa (1974) found that some wives work only when there is a need for additional finances to pay for children’s education and stop working when there are no urgent needs. Furthermore, some men oppose the idea of working wives. Therefore, the family unit has to manage with lower income than it could if more family members would have been responsible for bringing money in. It seems that the problem is not solely with educational system, but also with inability or failure of many to attend schools and complete basic education due to poverty.

  1. Are the poor people of Puerto Rico fatalistic, why do you think so? Or do they actively try to change their miserable circumstances?

People of Puerto Rico are not fatalistic. The country reports high numbers of migrants from rural regions to the urban ones. High migration rates indicate that people do not accept their miserable conditions as their fate, but strive actively to change situation and improve their conditions. Safa (1974) argues that poor shantytown dwellers are highly optimistic and place emphases on hard work, taking initiative, and being thrifty. Even the poorest families do not give up hope to build better future for themselves and their children. There is, definitely, little hopelessness and apathy in attitudes of urban poor many of whom strive to adhere to better work ethics and believe that perseverance and hard work are keys to overcoming unfavorable circumstances. Notably, some residents of shantytowns make personal sacrifices to give their children good education or pay for college studies (Safa, 1974). Despite the fact, very few of shantytown dwellers make it into a higher social class, many believe in the principle of social mobility. People believe that one can change his or her life for the better via planning, budgeting, and being frugal. Thus, many of Los Peloteros residents believe that anyone who wants to can improve his socioeconomic status by working towards changing circumstances.

  1. What is these people’s community life, religion, and politics like? How would you describe these activities?

The community life can be characterized by patterns of cooperation and mutual aid, as well as by bonds of friendship, companionship, and kinship. Shantytown residents tend to affiliate with people in their neighborhood and with others of similar social standing in other parts of an urban area. The relationship with people outside of the local community is likely to be highly utilitarian and impersonal. Safa (1974) claims that residents of shantytowns are excluded from meaningful participation in functioning of church institutions, labor unions, and political parties. Within the community, relationships between community members are highly reciprocal and personal. Family ties are very strong and highly valued. People help one another and share what they have with less fortunate neighbors. Masses that shantytown dweller attend tend to be at different hours than church services for parishioners of a higher social rank (Safa, 1974). Thus, Catholic Church institutions rather contribute to segregation of urban poor from the rest of church members. Safa (1974) argues that politics are the strongest link between outside world and the shantytown. However, although political parties actively seek the support of the poor class, the latter is not given any significant role in influencing parties or their programs.

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An investigation of a study of the transformations and dynamics that take place as residents of rural regions move to urban areas in search of better life and become urban poor by settling down in shantytowns led to several conclusions. First, although poor urban dwellers are excluded from meaningful participation in local religious and political affairs, they remain optimistic about their future and actively try to change their miserable circumstances. Second, raising educational level of the poor would help to effectively combat poverty. Lastly, capitalist societal structure of Puerto Rico that fosters inequality and accounts for wide gap between the poor and the rest of population is the main root of poverty.

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