Monday, March 19, 2012

Puerto Rico in Numbers: Somewhere In Between the West Indies and the United States

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Puerto Rico and statehood is in the news again as both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum battled over what would be necessary for Puerto Rico to become a state.  My own travel to Puerto Rico and subsequent research revealed a land somewhere culturally and economically between the West Indies in the United States.  The island greatly benefits from commonwealth ties to the United States but economics and cultural issues place it further away from the rest of the United States, sometimes in its own category or with the rest of the West Indies.

Many thanks to the CIA Factbook, Department of Labor, the United States Census, and the Washington Post for the figures used below.


When it comes to GDP per capita, the market value of all final goods and services produced divided by the number of people, Puerto Rico's is only 49% is national average and 71% of the most under producing state, Mississippi.  However, Puerto Rico's GDP per capita is 122% of the Bahamas and 331% compared to the Dominican Republic's, the highest independent Hispanic country in the West Indies.

United States Average:  $47,482

(Lowest State) Mississippi: $32,967
Puerto Rico:  $23,380
(Highest West Indies Country)  Bahamas:  $19,139
(Highest Hispanic West Indies Country) Dominican Republic:  $7,055

Income and Poverty

Income and poverty is where Puerto Rico suffers compared to both the United States and the Caribbean.  Much like GDP per capita, Puerto Rico lags behind the United States in the median household income category.  However, several independent countries and dependent territories in the West Indies have lower unemployment rates than Puerto Rico.

Median Household Income
United States Average:  $50,221

(Lowest State) Mississippi:  $36,646
Puerto Rico:  $18,862

United States Average: 8.3%
Puerto Rico:  12%
(Lowest West Indies Country) Cuba; 3.8%

Population Below the Poverty Line
United States Average:  15.1%
Puerto Rico:  41%


Puerto Rico has both English and Spanish as official languages while the United States does not have an official language.  However, English and Spanish usage show a huge gulf between Puerto Rico and the United States.

United States and Language:

Able to speak English fluently: 96%
English as the primary language: 82%
Spanish as the primary language: 10.7%

Puerto Rico and Language:
Able to speak English fluently: 15%
English as the primary language: 5%
Spanish as the primary language: 96%


Puerto Rico is not some outpost like the Virgin Islands or Guam, it is a heavily populated island on par with Oklahoma or Connecticut and it would be ranked 29th in population if it were a state.  It also would have impact on the federal level by having six House of Representative members, based on the rule of one representative per 600,000 residents.

Puerto Rico: 3,706,690

Ranking in Population Size as a State: 29
Probable House of Representative Members as a State: 6

However, Puerto Rico would be the smallest Hispanic West Indies country while still being larger than the English-speaking West Indies.

Cuba: 11,241,894

Dominica Republic:  9,378,818
Puerto Rico: 3,706,690
(Largest English-speaking West Indies) Jamaica:  2,847,232

Population and Diaspora

A major rebuttal Puerto Rico statehood supporters use is to state that all these fears of a cultural clash between the United States and Puerto Rico are unfounded because Puerto Rico "is already here."  There is some credibility to this as most Puerto Rican nations live in the United States and not Puerto Rico

Self-declared Puerto Ricans in the United States: 4,623,716

People living in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico:  3,706,690

Last Notes

Now if Puerto Rico were to become an independent country a decrease in standard of living could be possible due to the loss of ties with American businesses and the free flow of money with the United States, just look at the Philippines for an example of this occurring.  However, continued or modified commonwealth status could grant more political freedoms while keeping the money ties in place.  Statehood risks increases in taxation, loss of economic handicaps like minimum wage law modifications, and loss of tax law loopholes.  Finally, while both the Popular Democratic Party and New Progressive Party state they support statehood, just how this is done remains unknown.  This causes a situation where most Puerto Ricans voice support for statehood while voting to keep the commonwealth.

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