The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released their 2022 report on child wellbeing across the nation. The report concluded that Puerto Rico “experienced some of the worst outcomes” in their study. 57% of children in Puerto Rico live in poverty. 54% live with parents who do not have secure employment. 12% of teens are neither in school nor working.
These percentages are the worst in the nation, worse than any state and worse than Washington, D.C.
The report also says that 99% of current 8th grade students and not proficient in math, and that 23% of high school students do not graduate on time. 62% live in single parent households; 34% of U.S. children as a whole have only one parent in their home.
Data from the Youth Development Institute supports these figures, though their most recent report is from 2021.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services points out that Puerto Rico has the advantages of strong “reciprocity and generosity.” They also point to the “wide variety of informal and formal organizations geared to improve life through cultural promotion (arts, music, dance), neighborhood revitalization, environmental protection, youth development, and community development (may include micro enterprises, health promotion and community/home vegetable gardens) and alternative education to school dropouts. Other important assets are a strong cooperative movement, ecological movement, and the resurgence of agricultural work among young generations (under 40 years of age). A skilled and semi-skilled labor force that has been and still is sought after in the US is also an asset.” However, it is not possible to escape the conclusion that times are hard for Puerto Rico’s children.
Causes of economic hardship
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and has been for over a century. As a territory, Puerto Rico receives less support than any state from the federal government. Children in Puerto Rico are American citizens, but do not have all of the rights and protections that children in states have. Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections and has very limited participation in the legislature — one non-voting representative in Congress and none in the Senate, compared to the seven legislators that a state of the same size has.
Naturally, Puerto Rico has less influence on policies than any state. Statehood will give children in Puerto Rico — through their parents — a vote in presidential elections, and representation in Congress. This will make an enormous difference to the amount of support Puerto Rico will receive.
We are not talking only about government funding, although equality in these programs is essential for the wellbeing of Puerto Rico’s children. Equal rights for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico will also affect healthcare and education. Statehood will provide children in Puerto Rico with equal protection under the law, including access to education, healthcare, and social services on a level with the states.
As a state, Puerto Rico can expect more investment, infrastructure that supports business, safer streets, and greater national awareness of issues that affect the Island. All of these things will lead to better circumstances for Puerto Rico’s children.
Many of the territories which have become states already faced grave poverty when they were territories. Alaska and Hawaii, the most recent states to be admitted to the Union, were both very poor territories. They are now two of the most prosperous states. There is no reason to think that Puerto Rico will not see the same advantages under statehood.
There is currently a bill under consideration in Congress, the Puerto Rico Status Act, which will give Puerto Rico voters an opportunity to chooser among the constitutionally viable status options. It will put an end to territorial status and make Puerto Rico either a state or a nation. Congress must bring this bill to the floor and vote on it. Please tell your legislators that you want to see this done.