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Child Poverty in Puerto Rico Continues to Stagnate

Over the past three decades, child poverty in the United States has fallen by 59%, from 28% to 11% in 2019, and even further in the past two years, thanks to extra assistance during the pandemic. Child poverty is now at a record-breaking low of 5.2% in the United States as a whole.

In Puerto Rico, 57% of children lived in poverty in 2020, according to the Annie E. Casey report for 2022. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 65.6% of families headed by a single mother lived in poverty in 2019; this describes 30% of households in Puerto Rico.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicted that expansions of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for tax year 2021 would significantly reduce poverty in Puerto Rico.  Based on recent Census data, this is likely to be the case although that data is not yet available. It is nonetheless fair to assume that child poverty continues to be much higher in Puerto Rico than in the states.

What caused the reduction in child poverty?

As recently reported in the New York Times, experts agree that the most important factor in the reduction in child poverty is the increase in the safety net for America’s needy families. Measures of poverty that do not count nutrition assistance and similar non-cash funding continue to show a higher poverty rate. However, the number of children now free from food insecurity and homelessness has fallen largely in response to a variety of government assistance programs.

A research report from Child Trends confirms that the existence of federal programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been an important factor in the decline in child poverty. Economic factors such as lower unemployment rates and increases in minimum wages in some cities and states accounted for just under a third of the improvement.

Having a stable home, enough food to eat, and basic necessities such as medical care and school supplies encourage positive outcomes for children throughout their lives. This kind of federal investment increases the chances that young people will grow up to be able to support themselves. The reduction in child poverty thus can lead to a reduction in overall poverty in the future.

What about Puerto Rico?

Families in Puerto Rico do not receive the same level of federal support as those in the states.

  • The resources provided through NAP, the nutrition assistance program in Puerto Rico, are much lower than the amounts provided by the federal SNAP program.
  • Medicaid is capped in Puerto Rico, providing significantly less than the amount of funds required to meet the needs of the territory.
  • Puerto Rico only recently was added as an equal participant with respect to eligibility for the Child Tax Credit.  The territory was also recently granted additional resources through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), but Puerto Rico residents are still not treated equally and as generously in the EITC as similarly situated individuals in the fifty states.

The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico do not receive the same kind of federal support as those who live in states. Without this federal support, Puerto Rico experiences far greater levels of child poverty and has not seen the same reduction as in the states.

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