Contemporary World Issues

Puerto Rican Statehood

Puerto Rico

Population: 3,958,128 (July 2008 est.)
Net Migration Rate: -1.03 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
GDP (purchasing power parity): $77.41 billion (2007 est)
GDP per capita- $19,600 (2007 est)
Unemployment rate- 12% (2002)
Exports- $46.9 billion
Imports-$29.1 billion


     Puerto Rico is an organized territory of the US with commonwealth status; policy relations between Puerto Rico and the US conducted under the jurisdiction of the Office of the President. Puerto Rico elects, by popular vote, a resident commissioner to serve a four-year term as a nonvoting representative in the US House of Representatives; aside from not voting on the House floor, he enjoys all the rights of a member of Congress; elections last held 2 November 2004.
     Currently, the bill H.R. 900 was introduced to the House on February 7, 2007, and is scheduled for debate on October 23, 2007.  The bill calls for a plebiscite to be held in Puerto Rico no later than December 31, 2009, giving voters the option to vote to continue Puerto Rico’s present territorial status and relationship with the United States or to pursue a constitutionally-viable non-territorial status.  Along with the bill introduced into the House, there was a bill introduced to the Senate, S. 1936, on August 2, 2007.  This bill calls for a plebiscite to be held no later than September 30, 2009.

To see the text of the most recent bill introduced to the House:

To see the text of the most recent bill introduced to the Senate:


Why should the U.S. want Puerto Rico as a state?

We would benefit politically economically and culturally by the Puerto Rican influence.
The Puerto Rican people have been steadfast in their support of our country, our flag, and by sending their sons and daughters to fight in US wars.  To continue to operate a colony, forcing U.S. citizens to accept a citizenship, without full political rights and equal representation, is acting as an empire not a republic.
                                                                                                                                     U.S. taxpayers are paying billions per year to support an economy that in its present form doesn’t work well. It doesn't provide proportionate economic benefit for Puerto Ricans, nor does it provide to pay their share.

Commonwealth status was meant to be a transitional step toward statehood, not a permanent political situation.

Why should Puerto Ricans want to be a state?

They should not have to wait any longer to gain constitutionally-guaranteed citizenship with full political rights and responsibilities

Puerto Ricans would then share as everyone else in full benefits from our government, while paying taxes like everyone else

In the words of Don Luis Ferre, Ex-Governor of Puerto Rico, and winner of the U.S. Medal of Freedom, "It is an honor to be a citizen of the greatest country in the history of the World."

What would it cost the U.S. taxpayer to bring Puerto Rico into the fold?

Based on studies conducted by noted economists, it is projected that Puerto Rico as a state will actually contribute to, rather than be dependent upon, the U.S. taxpayer.

Under the current system, Puerto Rico costs the U.S. over $9.7 billion yearly. That is the amount lost from a combination of federal taxes forgone from large corporations doing business on the island as well as from individuals, together with grants-in-aid and transfer payments to the island. Puerto Rico gets significant amounts of federal grants-in-aid and transfer payments to individuals, such as veterans benefits, and welfare payments, which are not off-set by taxes collected on the island. These payments are in large part "needs tested." In other words, they support people who are elderly, poor or disabled.

However, no income taxes are being paid in. Part of the reason there are so many poor people in Puerto Rico is that the economic system in place under Commonwealth does not work well, creating a situation where many people are out of work; many underemployed.

As a state, Puerto Rico can be economically viable and a contributor to our nation’s wealth.

Projected estimates place Puerto Rico contribution to the U.S. Treasury at nearly $2 billion each year after gaining statehood. This would be possible through economic growth. With economic growth there are more jobs, fewer unemployed, and less of a public assistance burden.

What are the economic arguments for statehood?

The arguments for statehood from the U.S. perspective lead to one single overriding factor-economic growth. Statehood means that the island would shed its ineffective and costly reliance on preferential tax credits and more fully integrate into the national economy. In a study by Hexner, Jenkins, Lad and Lame, "Puerto Rican Statehood: A Precondition to Sound Economic Growth," the case is persuasively made that statehood is necessary for the island's economic growth.

Puerto Rico would no longer be a substantial cash drain on the U.S. economy. With statehood, the Puerto Rico economy will grow, become a source of additional revenue to the national treasury, and be less costly in support for the unemployed, the underemployed, and for disabled individuals who require public assistance.

For Puerto Rico, the standard of living would profoundly improve for the average person. With average income going up, families will be able to pay their fair share of taxes while still improving their net income and standard of living. For those with low incomes, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico will have the same access to tax relief and federal support programs as any other citizen of the country, unlike under the present status where significant disparities exist. 

Politically, would Puerto Rico be controlled by the Democratic Party or the Republican Party?

Puerto Rico has a strong and vibrant Republican Party. Former governor Luis Ferre served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico for much of his life. Former Lt. Governor Norma Burgos and many New Progressive Party members of the Puerto Rico Legislature and mayors on the island are Republican.

Does this mean the Republicans will dominate? No, because Puerto Rico also has a strong and vibrant Democratic Party. Just ask former Governor Pedro Rossello, or Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo. They are Democrats.

Nobody can predict how a state will turn out politically. We must remember that when Hawaii and Alaska came into the Union, it was widely predicted that Hawaii was assured for the Republicans and Alaska would only send Democrats to the Senate and House of Representatives. How did it turn out? Just the opposite.

Ask Democratic Senators Inouye and Akaka of Hawaii; or Republican Senators Murkowski and Stevens of Alaska, or their Republican Congressman, Don Young. In fact, it has been Don Young who lent his name to the "Young Bill" in 1998 which passed the House of Representatives authorizing a self-determination process for Puerto Rico.

The fact is, Puerto Rico, like most states in the union, will be a contested state politically, with good candidates from both parties being sent to Washington to represent the island. Puerto Rico is politically sophisticated with a history of strong party affiliation and contested elections. And nearly everyone who is eligible to vote in Puerto Rico exercises that privilege.

In 1996, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that if IRS tax rules are applied to residents of Puerto Rico:

the residents would owe around $623 million in federal income tax before taking into account the earned income tax credit (EITC); the aggregate amount of EITC would total $574 million;
59 percent of the population filing individual income tax returns would earn some EITC;
41 percent of the households filing income tax returns would have positive federal income tax liabilities, 53 percent would receive net transfers from the federal government, and 6 percent would have no federal tax liability; more Puerto Rican residents and married couples would file federal tax returns if they qualified for EITC; the average EITC earned by eligible taxpayers would be $1,494;

General Accounting Office says of the EITC:

Our estimates do not reflect other potential behavioral responses to the availability of the credit or the imposition of the federal income tax. For example, we were not able to estimate the number of potential EITC claimants who currently are not filing, even though they are legally obligated to file.

Potential noncompliance with the EITC provisions and behavioral responses to the availability of the credit could result in a larger aggregate amount of EITC being earned than we have estimated. A previous GAO report and studies by IRS have raised concerns regarding the vulnerability of EITC to noncompliance including fraud.

One reason why Puerto Rico's per-capita income tax is relatively low is that per-capita personal income in Puerto Rico is significantly lower than that in any of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 1992, Puerto Rico's per-capita personal income was $6,428, compared to $14,083 in Mississippi, the state with the lowest per-capita personal income.

For Further Information:


"Puerto Rico." The World Factbook. 09 September 2008. Central Intelligence Agency. 09 September 2008

"Puerto Rico"  Oxford Guide to Countries of the World. Peter Stalker. Oxford University Press 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  Huntsville City Board of Education.  11 September 2008

Katherine Bjork "Puerto Rico"   The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.   Huntsville City Board of Education.  11 September 2008

"Puerto Rico"   A Dictionary of World History. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  Huntsville City Board of Education.  11 September 2008

Rubinstein, Alvin Z. "The Case against Puerto Rican Statehood." ORBIS 45.3 (Summer 2001): 415. General OneFile. Gale. Huntsville City School (AVL). 22 Sept. 2008




Welcome to the websites of the CWI class at Huntsville High. This is an elective course that focuses on domestic and international current events.