Incomes in Puerto Rico have historically lagged behind those in the states, but the difference is steadily increasing. Puerto Rico’s per capita income – as represented by the blue bar at the left of each cluster in the graph above – has grown since 1970, but it hasn’t kept up with the states.
Puerto Rico’s per capita income is consistently lower than those of the states where many Puerto Ricans now live. It’s also behind the U.S. generally.
Over the past several decades, Puerto Rican incomes have stagnated at 35% of the average U.S. income. Meanwhile, New York, which is home to more Puerto Ricans than any other state, has caught up with and outdistanced the national average. Florida, where the largest number of Puerto Ricans are moving today, has remained close to the national average.
Even Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union, has improved its national standing. In 1970, Mississippi’s per capita income was $2,641, about half the national average. Today it is $31,186, roughly 2/3 of the national average.
In 1970, only 20% of adults in Mississippi had a college degree, agriculture was the main source of jobs, and about half the children of Mississippi lived in poverty — about the same as in Puerto Rico.
Today, roughly 22% of the people of Mississippi live in poverty — an improvement from 2012, when the number was 25%. While this is not a statistic to celebrate, it does show a real improvement over the situation in the 1970s. Puerto Rico continues to have about a 50% poverty rate.
In 1970, Puerto Rico’s per capita income was 2/3 of that in Mississippi. Today, Puerto Rico’s per capita income is about half of Mississippi’s per capita income.
Puerto Rico and Mississippi share historic similarities. Both have been affected by hurricanes and war – Mississippi was the 5th most prosperous state before the Civil War. They were both are founded on an agricultural economy and have large minority populations. Today, they both face educational challenges. Puerto Rico, like Mississippi, tends to lose its college graduates to states (in Mississippi’s case, other states) on the mainland.
Mississippi continues to face challenges, but the state has made strides over the past four decades and Mississippi is catching up. The hardworking people of Mississippi have better days ahead.
Puerto Rico has not seen these improvements. The trend is, in fact, moving in the opposite direction, with Mississippi outpacing Puerto Rio. Could there also be better days ahead for Puerto Rico?
As a state, yes. Every territory which has become a state has seen increased prosperity. Mississippi, as a state, has continued to see improvements over the past half century. Puerto Rico, as a territory, has not.
- In 1970, Puerto Rico’s per capita income was approximately 66% of Mississippi’s per capita income. In 2010, Puerto Rico’s per capita income was roughly 53% of Mississippi’s per capita income. In 2015, Puerto Rico’s per capita income was 45% of Mississippi’s.
- In terms of dollars, Puerto Rico’s per capita income in 1970 was $891 lower than Mississippi’s ($2,641 vs. $1,750). By 2010, the difference was $14,626 ($31,186 vs. $16,560). In 2015, Mississippi’s was $40,593 and Puerto Rico’s was $18,626.
- In Florida, Puerto Rico’s per capita income was approximately 44% of Florida’s per capita income in 1970 ($4,006 vs. $1,750). By 2010, Puerto Rico’s per capita income remained at roughly 42% of Florida’s per capita income ($39,272 vs. $16,560). In 2015, Puerto Rico’s was 37% of Florida’s.
- In New York, Puerto Rico’s per capita income was approximately 36% of New York’s per capita income in 1970 ($4,887 vs. $1,750) . By 2010, Puerto Rico’s per capita income decreased slightly to 34% of New York’s per capita income ($48,821 vs. $16,560). By 2015, Puerto Rico’s per capita income was just 30% of New York’s.
- The per capital income levels started off imbalanced in 1970: $1,750 in Puerto Rico vs. $5,010 for the whole US – a $3,260 difference. Puerto Rican per capita income was roughly 35% of the US per capita income.
- By 2010, the dollar difference was even more extreme: $16,560 in Puerto Rico vs. $47,350 in the whole US – a $39,790 shortfall and still 35% of the average U.S. per capita income. The percentage was about the same in 2015.
Source: World Bank, GNI Per Capita, Atlas Method (U.S. & Puerto Rico)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Personal Income Per Capita by State (Mississippi, Florida, New York)