The U.S Census Bureau released some staggering numbers underlining the precarious economic situation in which many families in Puerto Rico are facing. According to the latest statistics from 2010, 45% of the island's families are living below the poverty level, defined as those having an annual income of $22,314 or less for a household of four. Back in 2000, the poverty level was at 44.6%. (Note: the island's population experienced a notable decrease over the past ten years). Moreover, the Census also revealed that 36.7% of the island's households are beneficiaries of the Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN). In theory, PAN (colloquially known as "cupones") functions similarly to the mainland's food stamp program. At the root of the problem is the high level of unemployment and the historic low level of labor participation rate, which is estimated at just under 40%. Both factors have pushed an increasing number of families on the precipice of financial disaster.
Particularly heartrending is a report published by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which revealed that 56% of the island's children live below the poverty level. To help remedy this egregious problem, the U.S federal government has consistently provided economic assistance to the island. However, despite such social transfer programs, the island remains stuck in a sort of twilight zone. The reasons for this are numerous, ranging from a sclerotic local government to the misuse of public funds. A perfect example of the latter is exemplified by the Special Community Trust Fund, an initiative which begun under the administration of former Governor Sila María Calderón. This $1 billion social program designed to help families living in poverty has sparked a tremendous amount of controversy as the money in the trust fund has mostly dried up. Furthermore, it has far from achieved its intended goal to help the island's poorest communities. The purpose of this fund was to help construct homes in hundreds of communities that are currently living in dilapidated conditions. Many of the island's social problems, a skyrocketing crime rate and an increase in the high school dropout rate, can be attributed to the high level of poverty.
(Photo Credit: The image above was obtained from www.prensacomunitaria.com).