The economic problems of the dependencies are closely bound up with, and in some cases actually arise from, the character of the West Indian labour force which has, in both groups of territories, certain common characteristics and common problems. It is, for instance, very large in relation to available employment, although the actual labour force, in the sense of those actively employed or seeking employment, is probably relatively small in relation to the total population. In Puerto Rico, for instance, in 1949, it was 52 per cent of the population, whereas in the continental United States in the same year it was 57 per cent. There are factors that tend to raise the proportion of the population in the labour force, but other apparently overbalancing factors that tend to reduce it. Thus, it is raised by the relatively low age at which children leave school; by the large number of women wage workers; and by the low incomes of family bread-winners, which tend to induce other family members to look for work. On the other hand, the low levels of employment chronic in the economy have the opposite effect. The conviction that the search for work will be fruitless causes many not to search at all.
The Puerto Rican estimate, based on a 2·6 per cent annual population increase, is a yearly accretion of upwards of 17,000 workers to a potential labour force already numbering 818,000.1 In Jamaica, it has been estimated that the potential labour force increases by as much as 20,000 workers per annum. Employment opportunities, even in Puerto Rico, are not increasing at a rate in any way commensurate. While on the one hand this constitutes a major problem for the governments concerned, on the other hand the existence of a large and relatively cheap reservoir of labour must be regarded as one of the few potential assets of the area, if development is to take place. To summarize an argument developed more fully in Chapter VIII: communities can, in the last analysis, consume only as much as they produce, and the peoples of the West Indies do not at present produce enough to satisfy____________________