Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands The U.S. Virgin Islands are a tourism hotspot in the Caribbean comprised of four major islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island. Many people retire on the islands to enjoy the white sandy beaches and blue coastal waters. However, this list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands goes beyond the images of tropical paradise to get a closer look at life on the islands.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands

  1. The average household income in the U.S. Virgin Islands is $37,254 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is 75 percent of the mainland’s average income. Its economy relies heavily on tourism which makes up more than half of the islands’ GDP. More than 2 million tourists come to the Virgin Islands every year. However, when hurricanes damage the islands, they hurt the economy as well.
  2. The territory is $2 billion in debt due to hurricane damage, the collapse of sugar production and the closure of factories. In 2012, the Hovensa refinery closed down, leaving the islands without its largest employer.
  3. Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged up to 90 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authorities’ (VIWAPA) transmission and distribution lines. The U.S. provided $1.9 billion for recovery to the islands. The Virgin Islands have since regained its water and power, but many top hotels and resorts will still be closed until late 2019.
  4. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands is a nonprofit organization that supports aid to the islands and works with the government to provide essential resources. In addition, All Hands and Hearts and Repair the World are two groups which provide relief to the islands following the aftermath of hurricanes.
  5. The U.S. Virgin Islands have three main sectors of employment: mining, logging and construction; accommodation and food and leisure and hospitality. Because of hurricanes, as the tourism sector declines, the construction and rebuilding sector is experiencing growth. Following the 2017 hurricanes, employment declined by 7.8 percent.
  6. The cost of living in the U.S. Virgin Islands is higher than on the U.S. mainland. On average, apartments cost $2,000 per month. A two-bedroom house costs at least $285,000.
  7. Not everyone can afford health care on the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are high levels of HIV on the islands with 31.4 people out of 100,000 diagnosed with HIV. In the continental U.S., only 12.5 people out of 100,000 people have HIV. In addition, doctors who come from the U.S. mainland often have issues communicating with locals.
  8. Water conservation is important on the islands because it only rains an average of 38 inches per year. Many residents rely on cisterns to store water instead of using the main water supply. This can cause problems with the water not being safe to drink. To combat this issue, the U.S. Virgin Islands have constructed new, efficient desalination plants.
  9. The middle and lower class is largely made up of Black Americans. Hurricane seasons push many people in this demographic deeper into debt when they have to reconstruct or rebuild. It is estimated that over 480 people are homeless in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  10. The U.S. Virgin Islands provide private and public schooling to kids K-12. The University of the Virgin Islands offers 43 degree-options. It has campuses on both St. Thomas and St. Croix and there are 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students who attend the university. Though many schools were destroyed during the hurricanes in 2017, many have been rebuilt.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are more than just a tropical paradise with luxury homes. There are differences between the locals and those who move there from the mainland. Hurricanes wreak havoc on the small island territories every hurricane season, causing the islands to struggle economically and physically. This list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands is not exhaustive, but it paints a clearer picture that the island territory is not solely about palm trees and sea breeze.

Jodie Filenius

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in the Virgin IslandsWhile many people may have heard of the islands’ gorgeous vistas, there is much less talk about human rights in the Virgin Islands, an archipelago that forms the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are politically divided into the British, U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands are essentially free from human rights abuses. The strong legal system does not include gaps that could worsen the situation for the poor and vulnerable. The government is committed to continuously improving the laws to better protect the citizens and residents of the British Virgin Islands. The government undertook an extensive campaign to improve the working conditions of the public sector and to publicize human rights and the availability of government services. However, there is evidence that a legal aid system that was introduced is underfunded and somewhat ineffective.

Poor immigrant workers in the British Virgin Islands are the most likely to experience discrimination in the workplace. While the Human Rights Reporting Co-ordinating Committee conducts public education programs, many immigrants feel intimidated to come forward or feel it is unlikely they will receive a favorable decision from a court. Immigrant households tend to have less access to courts and welfare services as well.

While the British Virgin Islands are self-governing territory, this is not the case in the U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. Virgin Islands residents are U.S. citizens, but cannot cast votes for president in the Electoral College. However, they do participate in political parties’ presidential nominating process by holding caucuses and sending delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. In the U.S. Congress, they are represented by a delegate who can vote in congressional committees but not in the House itself. There is currently a lawsuit ongoing to fully enfranchise all U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Spanish Virgin Islands, ironically, are not a Spanish territory. They belonged to Spain before the Spanish-American War in 1898. The islands are now a part of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. Puerto Rico also faces the same challenges regarding enfranchisement and congressional representation as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While the situations may be different in the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, there is good reason to hope for improvement in human rights in the Virgin Islands. The government of the British Virgin Islands has shown it is not afraid to tackle the issue and make improvements, and activists and lawyers are working to improve the political situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Brock Hall
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Virgin Islands
This year, articles detailing adventures in the Virgin Islands have populated news feeds, travel blogs and online newspapers. To celebrate its 100th anniversary of becoming a U.S. territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands is offering $300 in travel credits to visitors vacationing for three or more nights in 2017. President Obama was recently photographed kitesurfing in the British Virgin Islands. However, outside of the scenic and comforting oceanfront villas that whisk vacationers away to alternate dimensions of rest and relaxation, the internet lacks recent data on poverty in the Virgin Islands.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Recently, the economy of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) has been unstable. Between 2011 and 2015, real gross territorial product (GTP) decreased by 7.8 percent. However, in 2015 alone, real GTP increased 0.2 percent in the USVI; in comparison, U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 2.6 percent in 2015. It is alarming that exports have decreased significantly. Between 2011 and 2015, total exports decreased 41 percent; in 2015 alone, total exports decreased 80 percent.

The number of jobs in manufacturing on the Islands decreased over 20 percent between 2011 and 2015. One of the world’s largest refineries based in the USVI shut down in 2012, driving this decrease in jobs. In the same year, refined petroleum exports to the U.S. plummeted by 90 percent. However, civilian employment increased in 2015, the most recent year that displays data. Furthermore, employment within leisure and hospitality remained fairly consistent between 2011 and 2015, which indicates a steady tourism industry.

A 2010 U.S. census found that 22 percent of the population in the Virgin Islands lives in poverty. Fifty percent of those living under the poverty level were families led by single mothers. The Congressional Research Service discovered that on average, children living in female-headed families were more likely to live in poverty than children living in two-parent households.

Euromonitor explains that tourism heavily impacts the USVI. The Wall Street Journal discovered that annual expenditures by visitors between 2007 and 2013 fell 19 percent. The article discovered that the Islands have high levels of debt and mounting pension obligations. If new bonds cannot be sold, widespread layoffs are a possibility.

The British Virgin Islands

Like its counterpart, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) relies on tourism to support its economy. A.M. Best, a U.S. based rating agency, found that tourism generates approximately 40 percent of the territory’s revenue. The rest is generated by the financial services sector. The BVI is extremely attractive to international businesses. For the first quarter ending in 2015, the BVI has registered over 478,000 companies. A.M. Best found that its economy grew two percent in 2015; however, insufficient data exists to properly understand the BVI’s poverty rate.

Levels of poverty in the Virgin Islands remain somewhat ambiguous; however, the Wall Street Journal stated that the USVI’s budget deficit is around $110 million. Therefore, travel credits is a great way attract more visitors and increase visitor exports. Highlighting the USVI travel credits, a writer for Thrillist said, “We should be banging down the doors to get in, not the other way around.” U.S. News found that the USVI was one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean— especially during the spring time.

Andy Jung

Photo: Flickr