Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Since independence, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) has fluctuated with international oil prices. In 1973 per capita GDP was estimated at U.S.$1,180; the figure peaked in 1982 at $6,800 (using official exchange rates) but has declined since then, reportedly to $4,210 in 1987. Trinidad has a large middle class, but there are also extremes of wealth: the wealthiest quintile of the population has 50 percent of GDP, and the poorest, 4 percent. During the oil-boom years, the government sought to end the economy's dependence on the world oil market by establishing state-owned energy-based industries, including a steel mill and a fertilizer plant. The economy's performance in the 1980s indicates, however, that this diversification did not meet its goal. The costly steel mill is now owned and operated by Nucor, a U.S. company. Since the end of World War II, both commercial and subsistence agriculture have declined steadily, although there is evidence of increased food production during the continuing recession; most food, however, continues to be imported.
Industrial Arts. In 1980 Trinidad had a reported literacy rate of 96 percent, and three-quarters of the secondary-school-age population were enrolled in schools in 1986. As a consequence of state educational policies and employment in the petroleum industry, Trinidadians have become a highly skilled industrial labor force. Transemigration has, however, removed a disproportionate number of skilled laborers and professionals. Trinidadians have also developed important organizational, manufacturing, and design skills through the production of the annual Carnival.
Trade. Two local conglomerates import most consumer and commercial goods. Trinidad has some half-dozen large shopping malls, each with its own supermarket. Until the recession of the mid-1980s, the government restricted the importation of many items and levied large tariffs on others, for the purpose of promoting local production. Only in a very few cases did these policies lead to the development of alternatives to foreign imports. Moreover, large import companies were often able to obtain exemptions from trade restrictions. A "suitcase trade" in light goods—notably clothing—thrived, although such trade was largely outside the official economy. After the elections of 1986, the NAR government adopted a policy of increased trade liberalization, which has largely been continued under the PNM government since 1992. Throughout the postindependence era, the United States has been Trinidad's main trading partner.
Division of Labor. In 1982 some 21 percent of the population was employed in services (including public administration), 19 percent in commerce, 19 percent in construction, 16 percent in mining and manufacturing, and 8 percent in agriculture. Women constituted 33 percent of the labor force in 1982.