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"To Increase Common Labor Supply with Porto Ricans"

With the passage of the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917, Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States. At the same time, penetration of the island by American-backed sugar interests displaced thousands of rural inhabitants, pushing them into a wage economy that could not support them. With the curtailment of immigration from Europe and World War I-related troop deployments squeezing the labor supply in the U.S., the government turned to Puerto Rico for a fix. This bulletin, produced by the U.S. Employment Service, explains the recruitment of the new migrants.

Government Work for 10,000 Already Arranged and First Arrivals Will Land Within Month

75,000 Islanders Now Available

As one of its means of augmenting the common-labor supply, the Department of Labor, through the United States Employment Service, will shortly begin bringing Porto Rican laborers to the continental United States. Within a month the first arrivals will be engaged in construction work on Government contracts, and the Employment Service already has arranged for the employment of more than 10,000 islanders on war work at Norfolk, Newport News, and Baltimore and vicinity. Approximately 75,000 Porto Rican laborers already are available for work in the mainland.

The Porto Rican laborers will receive 35 cents an hour, with time and a half for overtime work. They will be fed by the Government commissary, each man paying 25 cents a meal. Housing will be furnished to these men without cost, and a representative of the Department of Labor now is in the cities in which they will be employed arranging housing accommodations in advance of their arrival.

Army Transports Used

The transfer of this labor, which brings American common labor into the continent, has been held up for some months through lack of shipping accommodations. The War Department, however, has just agreed to bring over the islanders on the home trips of transports carrying supplies to the mobilization base at San Juan. The possibilities of Porto Rico as a source of common-labor supply were investigated last October by the department through F.C. Roberts, a special representative, who went to the island.

His estimate of 75,000 available men was subsequently confirmed by Santiago Iglesias, member of the Porto Rico Senate and President of the Free Federation of Labor for Porto Rico, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.

Source | "To Increase Common Labor Supply with Porto Ricans," U.S. Employment Service Bulletin, May 21, 1918.
Creator | U.S. Employment Service
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | U.S. Employment Service, “"To Increase Common Labor Supply with Porto Ricans",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed February 21, 2024,

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