One of the arguments against statehood for Puerto Rico is that it would affect statistics in the United States. The U.S. would have a lower per capita income if Puerto Rico were included in the figures, and a higher crime rate.
Are you doing a double take right now? We did, when we read this bizarre claim.
Let’s slow down and make sure we understand it.
Puerto Rico’s poverty rate
43.5% of Puerto Ricans lived in poverty in 2019. The poverty rate in the U.S. was 10.5%. Counting Puerto Rico as the 51st state, the U.S. poverty rate would climb to 11.14%.
Then what? The argument never goes on to say what the consequences of this change would be. Would that actually increase the number of people living in poverty in the states? Or are we imagining that the United States would have a hard time getting into the college of its choice with a higher poverty rate?
But wait a minute — the poverty rate for 2020 was actually 11.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Puerto Rico didn’t become a state in 2020, though the voters of Puerto Rico voted “Yes” on statehood in that year, but the poverty rate in the United States increased all the same.
An increase in the official poverty rate is bad news. But the change in statistics is not the issue. It’s the increase in the number of people living in poverty that is a cause for concern.
Puerto Rico’s crime rate
In 2018, Puerto Rico had 21 homicides per 100 thousand people. In the United States in general, the rate was 3.4.
We could go through the math again, but once again it is not the change in the numbers that matters. If the official crime rate for the United States changed as a result of admitting Puerto Rico, no change would have taken place in the current states.
The real world
In fact, we can expect that both the poverty rate and the crime rate would decrease in Puerto Rico following statehood. A temporary rise in the official poverty rate and the official crime rate of the United States might take place.
However, the numbers from Puerto Rico should already be included in statistics for the United States. Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. No other country is responsible for Puerto Rico. An honest reckoning of the crime rate and the poverty rate of the United States would include the territories belonging to the United States.
For Puerto Rico to become a state all three branches of the US government would have to agree. Statehood would require over fifty percent of support from, the Supreme Court would have to accept the change, which would annul the Insular Cases, and the president would have to sign the bill into law. Currently none of the branches of the US government support statehood for Puerto Rico.
Actually, only Congress must agree, with a simple majority. They can admit Puerto Rico as a state with no other support or agreement from any other branch of government. It’s in the Constitution, in the New States clause. Alaska was admitted with 53% of Congress voting yes.