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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Data suggests youth and child well-being is deficient due to poverty in Puerto Rico

From left, Youth Development Institute (Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud) researchers Dr. María Enchautegui, Caridad Arroyo Quijano and Vallerie Blakely Vallecillo (Photo by Richard Gutiérrez/San Juan Daily STAR)

Over 55% of children are currently living below the poverty line

By Richard Gutíerrez

Special to The Star

The nonprofit Youth Development Institute (IDJ by its Spanish initials) on Wednesday presented an index developed by the organization indicating that while the cost of living continues to rise, the average income in Puerto Rico has stayed below $23,000 a year.

That harsh reality marks the 10th year in a row where the island obtained a low score on the index, the institute reported at a press conference in San Juan. In comparison to 51 other jurisdictions of the United States, Puerto Rico ranks in 31st and stands as the U.S. jurisdiction with the worst conditions in various indicators such as: child poverty, median income in families with children, families with children in which one or both parents are unemployed, and participation in the state nutrition assistance program (which in Puerto Rico is commonly known as PAN by its Spanish acronym), which is currently received by 61%. Over 55% of children on the island live in poverty, which equates to nearly 300,000 children and youth in the archipelago.

“Puerto Rico is still stuck with a ‘D’ grade in the living conditions in which its children and youth develop,” said María Enchautegui, the IDJ’s research and public policy director. “With this rating on the Child and Youth Well-Being Index, Puerto Rico ranks 31st in comparison with the 51 U.S. jurisdictions evaluated in the Index. The economic data shows that there is a lot of work left to be done. The only way to improve these indicators is with intentional and concerted actions. IDJ proposes and supports systemic change that generates opportunities for boys and girls that live in low-income families and that paves the way for economic mobility.”

The index used to provide the following data is a tool created and published by the IDJ for the past 10 years, in collaboration with KIDS COUNT of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It provides a better look at the living conditions of children and youth in Puerto Rico between the ages of 0 and 17, with 27 different indicators in the areas of economy, family, education, health and safety. One of the advantages that the tool provides is that it makes it possible to compare the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico.

“With this tool, we have the possibility this year in Puerto Rico to make a scale comparison between 2011 and 2021 of the tendencies and how the conditions of the children and youth in Puerto Rico [have changed],” stated IDJ Research Analyst Vallerie Blakely Vallecillo. “With this data we are making a call to action. The median income of families with children in Puerto Rico is 22,334; this represents about $36,000 less than the median income of New Mexico, which is the jurisdiction with the second-worst conditions in the United States, compared to all other jurisdictions. On a municipal level the median income of families with children is even lower, where municipalities like Naranjito have a median income of $11,396 followed by Mayagüez, where the median income is around $11,643.”

Blakely Vallecillo added that the index shows that from 2011 to 2021 the percentage of families with children where one or both parents are currently unemployed has decreased by almost 10%; however, Puerto Rico is still the less favorable jurisdiction in that category in comparison to all 50 states.

She also stated that Puerto Rico places first when it comes to families that participate in nutrition assistance programs in comparison to the other jurisdictions. The municipality with the highest number of families with children receiving nutrition assistance is Guánica, with 84% of all families receiving the benefit. Guánica also has the largest number of families with children where one or both parents are unemployed.

Thankfully the data the index provides is not all bad, as the number of mothers who gave birth recently and don’t possess a high school diploma was reduced from 18% in 2011 to 8% in 2021. Over the past decade, Puerto Rico was able to reduce the number of teen pregnancy births, out of every 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. In 2011 there were 51 teen pregnancy births out of every 1,000 teens, while in 2021 there were only 13 teen pregnancies out of every 1,000 teens, which equals 1,267 births.

The index also shows that in comparison to 2011 there’s been a substantial reduction in the youth death rate, from 73 to 44, almost 30 fewer deaths for every 100,000 young people on the island.

However, the IDJ is not going to rest on the positive data the index provides. The next priority, the researchers said, will be to continue complying with Rule 84 2021, which implies reducing poverty in children and teenagers on the island. They also said at the press conference that they will soon reveal results from a survey that will show what the barriers are regarding employment that families currently face.

“There are solutions, and we have many proposals, as it is evident this problem cannot be solved with a single thing, this problem is the combination of many issues,” Enchautegi said. “However, we are hard at work with a timeline to reduce child poverty in the next 10 years which incorporates various policies, from developing skills, reducing the barriers in the workforce and the creation of jobs. Even though there are solutions, not every family has the same problem or solution -- maybe some families need daycare, maybe for others it’s lack of transportation. That is why we provide a wide variety of solutions to reduce child poverty in Puerto Rico.”

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