By DANICA COTO
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) â¿¿ Sweat gathered on the back of Gilberto Olivo's shirt as he tried to divert attention from his resume at a recent job fair in the working-class town of Catano.
Once a chemical engineer who held managerial positions in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Olivo became unemployed five years ago. Talking to a recruiter, the 64-year-old knew his former career might make him overqualified for jobs available now that could help him pay his mortgage, his daughter's college tuition and other costs.
"I'll do anything," Olivo said in all seriousness. "I'll clean floors, I'll wash dishes, I'll be an errand boy."
Olivo's predicament has become disturbingly common for many beleaguered lower- and middle-class residents of this U.S. territory, where energy, food and other costs were already much higher than those in the U.S. mainland. Now, the island's cost of living is hitting unsustainable levels for people such as Olivo as the government passes a flurry of new taxes and increases in water and sewer rates that are adding hundreds of dollars onto monthly budgets.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has said the island needs the new revenue to close a budget deficit and improve the near-junk status of its general obligation bonds while it hobbles through its seventh straight year of recession. But critics say the new measures are hurting potential economic recovery by squeezing Puerto Ricans who were already barely making ends meet.
"We inherited a chaotic situation, and in 8 months, we've done a lot," Garcia said after meeting with Wall Street credit agencies in late September in hopes of improving the status of the island's bonds. "We've done everything we had to do."
However, Gustavo Velez, a prominent local economist, said it wasn't clear yet whether the new measures would do more harm than good.