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Poverty is growing in Puerto Rico, under US colonialism: 57.6% of children live in poor households

Poverty is rising in one of the world’s oldest colonies: In Puerto Rico, 41.7% of people, including 57.6% of children, live in poverty. This is nearly four times the US rate. And Puerto Rican workers are getting poorer even while unemployment falls.

puerto rico poverty

Poverty in Puerto Rico, under US colonialism, is getting worse over time, not better.

More than two-fifths of Puerto Ricans suffer from poverty, and nearly three-fifths of Puerto Rican children live in poor households.

In 2022, the poverty rate in the colonized US “territory” grew from 40.5% to 41.7%, according to US Census Bureau data.

A staggering 57.6% of Puerto Rican children live in poverty. And 38.8% of families are below the poverty line.

Poverty has been growing in Puerto Rico even at a time when more people are working. The unemployment rate fell from 13.1% to 9.9% in 2022, while poverty got worse.

These statistics from the US Census Bureau may be very conservative. Anti-poverty activists in Puerto Rico have criticized the official figures and argued they downplay the hardship in the colonized nation.

As Yale University’s Genocide Studies Program notes, “Puerto Rico is one of the world’s oldest colonies, having been under some form of military occupation or protectorate status since 1508″.

The United States seized the nation from its former colonizer Spain in an 1898 war.

Washington claims that being a US “territory” makes Puerto Ricans wealthier, but after more than a century of colonization, their poverty rate is nearly four times the US average, while their incomes are roughly one-third those of the United States.

Puerto Rico’s poverty rate of 41.7% stands in stark contrast to the US national average of 11.5%, according to the Census Bureau.

In Puerto Rico, per capita income is just $14,047, while median household income is $21,967.

Across the United States, per capita income is $37,638, and median household income is $69,021.

In wealthy US states such as Maryland, Massachussets, or New Jersey, median household income is around $90,000 – more than four times that of Puerto Rico.

Even the poorest US states, like Mississippi, West Virginia, and Louisiana, still have a median household income of roughly $50,000 – more than double that of Puerto Rico.

The already dire economic situation for Puerto Rican families has only gotten worse in the past two years, as a rise in consumer price inflation has further eroded their purchasing power.

Meanwhile, the US federal government has fueled mass displacement and outward migration, by turning Puerto Rico into a tax haven.

Right-wing libertarians and corporate oligarchs have happily proclaimed, “Move to Puerto Rico!“, not because they care about the nation, its people, its culture, and its history, but simply because US citizens who relocate there do not have to pay federal income tax or capital gains tax.

This policy has unleashed colonial gentrification, incentivizing rich North Americans to displace local Puerto Rican residents.

It has also fueled rampant real estate speculation. Skyrocketing housing prices have only exacerbated the cost of living crisis, forcing many indigenous Boricuas out of the homes their families have lived in for generations.

Journalist Bianca Graulau has documented this colonial gentrification:



  1. Cure E Us

    2023-09-27 at 08:39

    RE: “The US federal government has fueled mass displacement and outward migration, by turning Puerto Rico into a tax haven.”

    Tax havens reward rich people at the expense of poorer people, worsening inequality and deepening schisms. 

    Tax havens corrupt markets, allowing tax cheats to free-ride on public services, and rewarding large corporations at the expense of small and medium enterprises, worsening the problems of monopoly and concentrated corporate power. 

    Tax havens are about hiding and secrecy. This has destabilizing effects, inflicting damage on our cultural, political and economic institutions.  Tax havens are hothouses for organized crime, helping criminals and oligarchs to penetrate the heart of many governments.

    Tax haven secrecy enables bribes and illegal political donations to flow undetected, making it increasingly difficult to trust the integrity of everyone from the Prime Minister and the President down.
    All this undermines citizens’ faith in state institutions that are supposed to protect public interest.  By allowing individuals and businesses to operate outside the law, tax havens offend against the principle of civic equality: one rule for them, one rule for us corrodes the social fabric on which so much depends. Undoubtedly tax havens hurt the countries suffering the plundered outflows, but they also pose grave threats to the economies receiving the inflows. Western countries playing the tax haven game have created a hydra, a monster which has turned around to bite them.

    Illicit financial flows pose a range of political threats to the inflow countries. It diverts political leaders and civil servants away from the public interest, towards secret, more nefarious personal ends.

    Tax havens allow political parties to set up secret branches disguised as think tanks or foundations, “sometimes referred to as ‘offshore islands’ of political parties.”

    Tax havens are corrupting our leaders, our institutions and our democracies, generating yet more rage among the citizenry. When the last global financial crisis hit, western leaders largely didn’t change their economic policies in response to democratic pressure for change.

    Decades of deregulation have left financial markets awash with illicit money seeking pliant host countries. Tax havens prosper by relaxing laws, rules, taxes and law enforcement, creating a criminogenic environment in the name of financial freedom. In the accelerating “global race” to attract hot money, countries ‘compete’ by offering yet more tax cuts, more regulatory loopholes, and outright subsidies to global elites and powerful corporations. The misguided quest to attract the world’s hot money puts tremendous, unaccountable, direct power into the hands of malign actors, domestic and foreign. If this isn’t a threat to our democracy and collective security, it is hard to know what is.
    Inflows push up local prices and the exchange rate, rendering it harder for manufacturers and producers to compete against imported goods, while also making housing unaffordable for young people. 

    The agencies tasked with protecting our collective national security, now need to recognize the scale of the threat to democracy and social stability emanating from kleptocrats, oligarchs, and organized crime. And they need to understand how this threat is structurally bound up with an army of professional enablers in accountancy, finance and law and an increasingly dysfunctional domestic economy.

    • Clément David Gamba

      2023-09-27 at 11:45

      IS very emmergency change status of Puerto Rico as country, Washington DC as state, adwancy status of us Virgin Island, Northern Mariana Island, Guam, Samoa American. Also independance IS possible with us Virgin Island and Puerto Rico.

  2. Cure E Us

    2023-09-27 at 17:20

    RE: “Washington claims that being a US “territory” makes Puerto Ricans wealthier.”

    Washington’s claim is ludicrous at best. Why would Washington (the consummate hypocrite and chauvinist) pretend to be an altruist, interested in making Puerto Ricans wealthier? Washington’s economic system is based on capitalism: an obligation to maximize financial interests of shareholders. Maximizing financial interests for shareholders, and making Puerto Ricans (other than the tax evading Puerto Rican billionaire class – and their henchmen) wealthier, are mutually exclusive.

    Territories have second-class voting rights and less power of self-government than enjoyed by states. Congress has the power to regulate territories more completely than it does states. The second-class status of territories encourages a dependent colonial-like status that has suppressed development and prosperity. A permanent collection of territories had a certain uneasy quality of an American empire. Are we not different from the colonial powers we fought against in 1776?

    Washington’s declarations are simplified – or interpreted – like mathematical equations: you frequently take the {inverse} to solve.

  3. David Pineo

    2023-09-27 at 19:48

    I agree with the comments made above. But it must be said that Puerto Rico can become independent by referendum. The US promotes dependence on Food Stamps et al. to prevent that, but perhaps it is time. An independent Puerto Rico could tax the havens and real estate of the rich immigrants.

    • Cure E Us

      2023-09-29 at 00:52

      Since 1967, six votes have been held in Puerto Rico asking people what type of relationship they would like for Puerto Rico to have with the United States. This relationship is commonly called Puerto Rico’s “political status.”

      Today Puerto Rico remains a territory of the United States. Under the U.S. Constitution, there are two other options for Puerto Rico’s political status:  Puerto Rico could become a State of the Union, as Hawaii did, or a sovereign nation like the Philippines. Congress has the power to end Puerto Rico’s territorial status by simply holding a vote.

      The end of U.S. citizenship in a sovereign nation of Puerto Rico is viewed as a major reason behind the unpopularity of the Independence option. The people of Puerto Rico were granted U.S. citizenship in a 1917 federal law.

      In the 50 states, people are guaranteed U.S. citizenship under the U.S. Constitution upon birth.  This Constitutional guarantee is more secure than U.S. citizenship provided through a basic federal law, which only requires a majority vote in Congress to change.

      Many Puerto Rican voters are concerned about losing their U.S. citizenship if Puerto Rico ends its status as a U.S. territory and becomes an independent nation.

      In 2012, in a two-part ballot, 53.97% of the electorate voted to end Puerto Rico’s territorial status.  In a follow-up question, over 60% of voters chose statehood, 33.34% selected free association, and 5.49% voted for independence.  The increased interest in free association from 1998 to 2012 is consistent with the growing misperception in Puerto Rico that U.S. citizenship would be secure under a free association relationship.

      The three most recent votes – in 2012, 2017, and 2020 – resulted in statehood as the top choice.  Each vote was certified by the Puerto Rico State Election Commission. The popularity of statehood lies, at last in part, in the fact that U.S. citizenship under statehood is secured through the U.S. Constitution.

      • Mack Six

        2023-12-09 at 08:29

        Hello peeps.

  4. JonnyJames

    2023-09-28 at 10:51

    Another factor is the fraudulent debt trap that Puerto Rico has to endure. We can ask profs Radhika Desai and Michael Hudson about that.

  5. Rubicon

    2023-09-28 at 12:42

    Not to dismiss this horrible mess in Puerto Rico, but it seems the article is quoting the US Census & other US data. Educated citizens know the US Census Bureau always fails to had the multiple millions of Americans who have vanished into the netherworld of “poverty.” Average income? Based on what US institution? What is always left out are the multiple TRILLIONS OF $$ in DEBT Americans are in. 2023 figures show that in American credit card DEBT, ALONE, have hit $1 trillion. That’s just credit card DEBT. Add on to that the multiple trillions of DEBT they’re in with auto loans, health insurance costs, energy costs, etc.etc. Result: an immensely impoverished American public.

    • JonnyJames

      2023-09-29 at 11:07

      Good points – the student loan debt exceeds even credit card debt – over 1.7 trillion and counting. The US has been turned into a nation of debt peons. Debts and bankruptcies due to medical costs (health extortion) are the highest, by far, in the world – only in ‘merka…
      Declining health outcomes, increasing debt peonage, declining average life expectancy etc. The US is clearly a nation on the decline, decaying from the rampant institutionalized corruption. All empires rise and fall…it’s similar to Rome in the 4th century.

  6. Rubicon

    2024-01-11 at 16:48

    Compare that figure in the US’Financial Hegemon and its poverty rate:

    At least 45% of US children are impoverished in the US.The Fed’s governing board revealed 106 million adult citizens have no jobs; another 100+ million work part-time, low wage jobs, that barely provides them the ability to put on the table.US “homeless population” about 2 million. Only about 25% of US citizens earn decent wages. All the rest, are barely scrapping by.

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