Study: Puerto Rico’s children mired in poverty that dwarfs rest of U.S.

San Juan, Puerto Rico (CNN) — More than 80% of children in Puerto Rico live in high-poverty areas, according to a recent report. That’s a sharp difference from national figures measured by the same study, which indicates that 11% of minors across the United States live in high-poverty areas.

“What this implies is that the children of Puerto Rico are facing really great difficulties in order to have the appropriate resources to develop. Whether it is because in their homes there are not enough resources or because in the community where they live there are not enough resources,” said Nayda Rivera-Hernandez, senior research analyst at the National Council of La Raza.

The study, released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Council of La Raza using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, showed that the percentage of Puerto Rico’s teenagers who are not in school or working is higher than in any U.S. state; at 18%, the rate is twice as high as the national U.S. figure, according to the National Council of La Raza.

The report says 56% of Puerto Rican children live in poverty, compared with 22% for the entire United States.

For the leaders of the communities along the Martin Pena Canal in San Juan, these statistics give a glimpse what their children live every day.

Of the communities’ 26,000 residents, 23% are minors. Many of them go to school without supplies. And according to their directors, sometimes the schools themselves don’t have the necessary materials for basic studies. But this isn’t the greatest problem.

One of the most worrying issues here is public health, community leaders say, because the community does not have a sewage system. On rainy days, water flows into the canal, forcing wastewater back into pipes and causing floods that sometimes reach inside homes.

“What keeps impacting us is the problem of polluted water. … Our children have to put their feet in polluted water. The kids sometimes see little turtles that come out of the canal and they want to pick them up,” said Lucy Cruz, a community leader.

The canal community has more than 80 leaders who say they are actively working to improve the lives of residents — and their children — with or without the help of the island’s government.

According to the American Community Survey, Puerto Rico’s poverty rate is about 45% — three times the national U.S. figure.

Puerto Rican government statistics indicate 640,000 families on the island receive food stamps.

Rivera-Hernandez, of the National Council of La Raza civil rights group, said officials should devote more resources to helping families on the island.

“When a large majority of our children live in high-poverty areas, in single-parent families, and with parents who lack secure employment, we cannot ignore the threats to their well-being,” she said. “If we focus on helping families, then our children will do better. We must target our limited resources to strengthen our children’s prospects and help prepare them for the future.”

From Dania Alexandrino, For CNN
updated 9:37 PM EDT, Wed August 1, 2012

Puerto Rico is living an impoverished debt nightmare reminiscent of southern Europe or Detroit


Puerto Rico’s poverty rate hit 44.9%, according to new data released today by the US Census Bureau—that’s nearly double the poverty rate in Mississippi, the most impoverished of the fifty states. It’s the latest in a string of bad economic news for the self-governing US territory.

Puerto Rico’s rap sheet isn’t so different from that of many troubled European countries. It’s been in a recession since 2006—longer even than Greece. And like many euro zone countries, it can’t inflate its way out of its problems because it uses the US dollar.

In June 2012, the Puerto Rican government had $67.7 billion in total debt outstanding, not including $30 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. That works out to more than $18,000 per capita, compared to about $11,000 for Massachusetts, the most indebted US state per capita.

Puerto Rico’s debt to GDP ratio comes out to 84% versus the US median of 3%, according to Morgan Stanley. Although the territory’s unemployment rate has fallen from a high of 16.9% in 2010, it’s still high at 13.5% as of July.


Yields on Puerto Rican municipal bonds have doubled from a year ago, as investors have grown worried that the little US territory won’t be able to pay off its massive debt pile. And if you’re an American the drama could hit close to home; there’s a decent chance that your pension fund has some Puerto Rican bonds in its portfolio. Detroit’s July bankruptcy hasn’t helped—the city’s potentially huge losses for bondholders are making investors in the entire asset class jittery.

Unlike Detroit—whose financial demise has spanned decades—Puerto Rico’s woes are new enough to take some investors by surprise. Municipal bond funds have been attractive places for institutional investors to find yield, and most of those bond funds have (or had until recently) significant exposure to Puerto Rico.

“Municipal bond holders owned more Puerto Rico municipal bonds than they ever realized,” John Taft, the RBC wealth management in the US, told Bloomberg Surveillance yesterday. “There are massive redemptions in the world of municipal bond funds because people are waking up and realizing that their portfolios include a lot more exposure to Puerto Rico than they ever realized.” Taft called Puerto Rico’s debt situation one of the most significant events he’s watching in the next few months.


If the territory were to default, it could find itself in some sticky legal dealings. Unlike Detroit, Puerto Rico can’t file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, which allows municipalities to negotiate payment plans with their creditors under court supervision. The lack of court supervision could make the process messier (pdf), and reduce the probability that the territory could return to the public markets for funding in the near future.

Fortunately, not all of Puerto Rico’s public debt looks sour. Although Moody’s rates the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Baa3 (the lowest investment-grade rating), its Sales Tax Financing Corporation earns an Aa3 rating (near the top of the scale).

Then again, that would be little consolation for one in five Puerto Ricans who work for the government, who could see their pensions slashed or jobs cut if Puerto Rico’s debt situation worsens.


Homelessness in Puerto Rico and other poverty news

Puerto Rico’s homeless population has risen sharply—as much as 70 percent—in the past two years amid an ongoing economic crisis. Across the island of 3.7 million people, thousands of homeless can be seen sleeping on park benches, under bridges, or in doorways. 

Before the economic downturn, 80 percent of the island’s homeless were tied to drugs, but financial and family problems now play a bigger role. One such person is Caridad Colon who, after three decades of financial independence, lost her job and her home, spent one night homeless, and now rents an apartment in a complex nicknamed Crackville: “I am terrified of my neighbors. I sprint up and down those stairs.”

The island’s poverty rate has inched up to nearly 47 percent. That’s compared with Mississippi, the poorest state in the U.S., where nearly 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Puerto Rico’s second largest city, Ponce, has no shelter for about 200 homeless people.

Posted July 10, 2013, 02:42 p.m.

Oil and natural gas reported near Puerto Rico

This week the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) produced an assessment which could possibly lead to the future production of oil and natural gas in the Puerto Rico–U.S. Virgin Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. The USGS report, published on November 25, announced an “estimated means of 19 million barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and 244 billion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas” directly south of the two U.S. territories, specifically in the Muertos Trough region (full report below).

P. Rico: Growing Demands to Release Political Prisoner

San Juan, Nov 22 (Prensa Latina) Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin gave a global dimension to the demand to free political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, in remarks that he made during the TV broadcast of the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony. “Freedom and Justice for Oscar López,” Martin in front of the cameras last night, after singing with his compatriot Robi Draco as part of the award ceremony at the Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This demand, which reached millions of television viewers in the United States and the world, comes at a time when dozens of celebritiesÂ� voices in Puerto Rico have urged people to attend a march convened for tomorrow in San Juan to demand Lopez Rivera’s release .

The Puerto Rican political prisoner has spent 32 years behind bars, 12 of them in solitary, after being convicted of seditious conspiracy, the same offence for which Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa.

Meanwhile, former Puerto Rican Minister of Education José Arsenio Torres said today that U.S. President was moved while visiting the prison where Mandela was held South Africa, but incapable of responding to demands for clemency for Lopez Rivera.

Just like Nelson Mandela, Oscar López Rivera has not committed any crime, except to fight for his homeland, Torres said, criticizing Obama’s silence in response to thousands of requests that have been made to him in writing to free the Puerto Rican independence fighter.