Will Statehood Benefit Puerto Rico?

One argument against statehood is that it would make things worse in Puerto Rico. 32 territories have already become states, and we can look at their histories and see that statehood has been a plus for every one of those states.

Could it be different for Puerto Rico? Puerto Rico is deeply in debt, has a much higher poverty rate than any state, and receives less federal support than states do. Would statehood cause problems for Puerto Rico?

Here are the changes we can expect with statehood:

statehood changes infographic

Brad Setser of the Council on Foreign Relations is not a statehood proponent, but he summarized the likely economic effects of statehood like this: “Puerto Ricans do not have access to the same level of federal benefits that they would get if the island were a state. While Puerto Rico does receive some federal assistance—food stamps, housing funds, and some highway and transportation funds—it clearly receives less from the federal government than it would if it were a state. It receives, for instance, less in Medicaid funding than it would get if it were a state. And, ironically, many Puerto Ricans would get a rebate if Puerto Rico were part of the personal income tax system, which is progressive and provides subsidies through the earned income tax credit for low-income workers.”

We don’t see the irony in the fact that most people in Puerto Rico would benefit from being able to take part in the U.S. income tax system. Nearly half of U.S. citizens in the states don’t pay any income taxes. Puerto Rico’s higher poverty rate makes it almost certain that most people in Puerto Rico would benefit from filing for income taxes. Tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit would probably create tax refunds for most Puerto Rico residents.

That’s not irony. That’s inequality under the law, which is what territories get.

Read articles opposing statehood, and you’ll see thin claims involving the Jones Act, which already applies to Puerto Rico, and the dangers of welfare. An article by Luis Gallardo Rivera contains a telltale statement: “Statehood would permanent[sic] lock Puerto Rico into such an order and would strip it of any chance of negotiating its way out of such things.”

“Such things” in this case refers to the Jones Act and the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Puerto Rico, as an unincorporated territory, has no chance of negotiating its way out of the U.S. Constitution. Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” party has long held out hope of negotiating some “improved” or “enhanced” version of the current territorial status. They are not arguing in favor of the current political position of Puerto Rico. A political and economic position that leaves people in poverty and hardship isn’t worth arguing for.

They’re arguing for an imaginary situation, a “Fantasy Island” status. They dream that this mythical status will be better than the reality in Puerto Rico now.

Puerto Rico deserves better. Puerto Rico deserves statehood.

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