A clear majority of Puerto Rican voters chose statehood in the November 3rd plebiscite. Millions of Puerto Ricans have voted for equality with their feet — by moving to a state. One of the consequences is that Puerto Rico’s population is aging.
More than 28% of the people of the territory are over 60 and 6% are over 80, according to the Census Bureau. In the United States as a whole, 22% are 60 or over and 4% are 80 or over.
The birthrate has also fallen, from 2.8 per woman in 1980 to 1.9 in 2005, 1.64 in 2014, and to 1.10 now. In the United States as a whole, the birth rate is 1.77.
The large numbers of young adults and young families giving up the territory for a state, the declining birthrate, and the increase in elderly residents means that Puerto Rico’s population will continue to get older.
Why is this a problem?
The Commonwealth government is not equipped to meet the needs of the increasingly elderly population. The unfunded liability of its public pension systems, for example, has grown to $50 billion.
The territory doesn’t have nursing homes or similar services. A primary reason for this is its treatment in Medicaid. Unlike the states, in which the Federal government contributes to their Medicaid programs based on need, the Federal share in the territory is limited by the government in which Puerto Ricans do not have voting representation. Just one of the consequences of this limitation is that Puerto Rico does not have long-term care available for the elderly people who need it.
Statehood would make possible Federal assistance of $1.5 billion a year for Medicaid funding for nursing home care, according to the Congress’ Government Accountability Office.
It would also provide up to $1.5 billion a year more in Medicare benefits, mostly for healthcare for older Puerto Ricans.
In 2010, 41% of the elderly population of Puerto Rico lived in poverty. In 2019, more than 43% of the total population lived in poverty. We do not have current figures for poverty among the elderly in Puerto Rico. However, the information we have makes it clear that most of the elderly people in Puerto Rico do not have a comfortable financial position that will allow them to hire home health care or to live in private nursing homes.
271,000 to 320,000 people who cannot work and are impoverished, mostly elderly, would receive up to $1.8 billion a year in for basic living needs through the Supplemental Security Income program. The territory is excluded from the program now.
The Supreme Court ruled in April that Puerto Rico should not be excluded. However, the federal government appealed the decision, saying that “nothing in the Constitution prohibits Congress from agreeing to a different treatment” for territories.
Beyond these specific points, history has shown that statehood leads to prosperity. Every single state in the Union that used to be a territory is in a better economic position as a state than it was in when it was a territory.
As a state, Puerto Rico would probably be better able to keep younger people in the islands, in addition to having greater Federal support for older residents.
Tell your legislators that you want to see statehood for Puerto Rico.