In slightly less than thirty years following departmentalization of Martinique in 1946, the entire basis of the economy had shifted. Where once agriculture had dominated the lives of islanders, tertiary production, including services and commerce, had come to employ nearly 70 percent of the active population.
Since World War II, there have been no new sectors of productive growth to accommodate the increased population of workers resulting from the demographic boom. Instead, growth has been centered on the public sector: in 1954 it accounted for 2 percent of employment, by 1974, 18 percent, and by 1986, 32 percent. Still, increases in the number of jobs in government and commerce have only served to offset the fall in agricultural and craft-related production.
Since the early 1970s, unemployment in Martinique has hovered around 30 percent. There is a thriving underground economy, however, that is not accounted for in official statistics. In addition, French social-transfer payments have helped offset the economic hardships of irregular work or lack of work.
These transfer payments have meant that in spite of dramatic declines in self-sufficiency beginning in the 1950s, Martiniquais have enjoyed a constant rise in income, life expectancy, and overall living standards. For instance, whereas only half of all households had both water and electricity in the mid-1970s, by the early 1990s, 90 percent did. Most also have a refrigerator, a television, and a telephone, and more than half own a car. Between 1970 and 1985, the minimum wage guaranteed to full-time workers multiplied more than 7 times. As consumption has soared, dependency on credit purchases has also increased. Thus, economic dependency on France is deep and wide, and despite the fact that Martinique cannot sustain its own standard of living, Martiniquais live relatively affluent, consumer-oriented lives.