Borgen Magazine recently featured an article called “Statehood: A Solution to Impoverishment in Puerto Rico.” The economic improvements that statehood would bring are one of the most common arguments made in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico.
“Though its political status is not the sole cause of poverty in Puerto Rico,” the article said, “the lack of federal investment or choice over economic policy that comes from its limited sovereignty puts the population at a significant disadvantage.”
The author went on to point out the differences in healthcare and nutrition assistance funding between the territory of Puerto Rico and the states. The lack of benefits is certainly an issue, but it is not only the inequity in federal funding that would make an economic difference under statehood.
Unquestionably, Puerto Rico would receive more in federal benefits as a state than as a territory. Puerto Rico is required to provide certain kinds of medical care for needy residents, but receives far less in federal support for health care than it would as a state. This is one of the things that drove Puerto Rico into debt.
People in Puerto Rico also receive far less in nutrition assistance. This adds up to food insecurity for nearly half the people in Puerto Rico. That hardship has long-term consequences for kids growing up on the Island.
People living in Puerto Rico are not eligible for SSI, and there are many more differences. About 21% of Americans participate in some federal benefits program. In Puerto Rico, where the benefits are meager by comparison, people do without or the territory’s government has to make up the difference.
Having equal federal benefits would be a good thing for Puerto Rico.
Statehood would also provide Puerto Ricans with voting rights and representation in Congress. Members of Congress and the Senate fight for laws and budgetary decisions that will benefit their states. Puerto Rico has one representative who has no vote on the floor of Congress. The state of Puerto Rico will have two senators and four or more representatives in Congress, each of whom will have a vote.
People from states moved into territories as America expanded westward. In every case, the newcomers from the states fought for statehood because they noticed the difference between having that representation as they previously had and living in a territory without that representation.
Some of the differences are economic.
In addition, the 10th amendment gives decision making powers to states which territories do not have. States have, under the constitution, equality under the law when it comes to commerce.
As a state, Puerto Rico will have greater control over her economic life.
When it comes to encouraging businesses to locate in Puerto Rico, failures of the infrastructure get in the way. Electricity, safe water, roads and other logistics, and telecommunications are all extremely important to corporations. When they think about where to build a factory or locate a store, business owners need to be able to feel confident that they will have strong supply chains and stable utilities.
Hawaii saw the difference after statehood as tourism, construction, and business in general all prospered. People from outside the new state were eager to invest.
In fact, history shows that every territory which has already become a state was more prosperous after statehood than it was as a territory. Roads, railroads, waterways, towns, and public institutions flourished, and people followed.
At this point, Puerto Rico has a head start on other territories that became states. Puerto Rico already has world-class museums, universities, a population with manufacturing experience, and the oldest city under the U.S. flag. Just a severe territory which became a state saw growth in it population, Puerto Rico will also see that growth.
Right now, Puerto Rico is losing population. Especially among people of working age, leaving the Island is tempting. Puerto Ricans can move to the states and have all the benefits of living in a state immediately. More jobs, more access to healthcare, and a voice in American democracy are available for the cost of a plane ride.
The result is an aging population, a lack of professionally trained people in industries like healthcare, and a shrinking tax base. That can never be a recipe for prosperity.
Investors and businesses need to know they can be confident about infrastructure, but they also want an available workforce. Puerto Rico has the advantage of an educated, bilingual workforce, but a shrinking population threatens that advantage.
Every territory has become more prosperous as a state, and Puerto Rico will do the same. We need a fair chance. HR8393 gives us that chance. If you live in a state, please help give Puerto Rico a voice. Reach out to your congressional reps and let them know how important it is to page HR8393.