Should Puerto Rico Become the 51st State?

John Tondora ‘20

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Over 100 years ago, the island of Puerto Rico was acquired by the United States. Since then, the island has gone through five votes for statehood. Most recently, in the summer of 2018, 97 percent of voters in Puerto Rico cast their ballots in favor of becoming a state; however, a mere 23 percent voter turnout occurred (Zezima 1). This paradoxical result has stymied the push for statehood, as critics call the turnout too low, while proponents see the final result as an overwhelming success. Nonetheless, before answering the question of whether Puerto Rico should or should not gain statehood, a deeper dive into the socio-cultural and economic status of the territory is needed.

Last September, the category four hurricane, Maria, made landfall on the island. It was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in 85 years. The National Hurricane Center reports that a storm of that magnitude can cause, “catastrophic damage” including, “fallen trees and power poles [isolating] residential areas” and “Power outages [that] will last weeks to possibly months” (“Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale”). The effect of this storm was overwhelming, as the island lost power and virtually came to a stop. Though a territory of the United States, the island received very little acknowledgment from the American mainland. With recovery efforts still ongoing, the topic of statehood is on the backburner for many Puerto Ricans who are still struggling to heat their homes and find fresh water (Jerome 1). Matt Freedberg, ‘20, stated on the topic of hurricane relief, “Puerto Rico needs to become a U.S. state so that it can receive more attention and benefits from the American mainland.” Thus, Puerto Rico has substantial infrastructure issues that may only be resolved through acceptance into statehood and the additional benefits that would come with statehood.

A second factor influencing the United State’s decision to accept Puerto Rico as a state is Puerto Rico’s enormous debt. The island, which as of August of 2018, has over 80 billion dollars in debt and over 45 billion dollars in unpaid bonds, which is a major financial issue. When asked if the United States should take on Puerto Rico as a state, Evan Li, ‘19 responded, “No because the United States is not currently prepared to take on the debt of Puerto Rico.” Many Americans share Evan’s opinion and this sentiment creates a roadblock in Puerto Rico’s journey statehood. After the end of World War II, the Federal Government made Puerto Rico a tax haven for businesses, hoping to spur economic and industrial growth in the region. However, during American debt issues during the ‘80s and ‘90s, the haven was revoked and so too was the prosperity of Puerto Rico. The loss of economic growth in the region resulted in massive debt, as the Puerto Rican government spent as a means to cover for the loss of prosperity. Before even considering making Puerto Rico a state, the question of economic relief is inevitable.

Therefore, when questioning whether Puerto Rico should become a state, every aspect of Puerto Rico’s current status must be weighed. For a final verdict, Puerto Rico should not simply rush into becoming a state, as there are economic as well as political issues that they must sort out prior to trying to become the 51st state. Whether or not Puerto Rico becomes a state, the United States Federal Government must make it a larger priority for the island to receive the help it deserves.


Works Cited

Jerome, Sara. “Thousands of Puerto Ricans Still Waiting on Clean Water.”, 11 Jan. 2018, Accessed 28 Jan. 2019.

Kranz, Michael. “Here’s How Puerto Rico Got into so Much Debt.”, 9 Oct. 2017, Accessed 28 Jan. 2019.

“Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.”, Accessed 28 Jan. 2019.

Zezima, Katie. “Puerto Rico Pushes for Statehood, Calling It a Civil Rights Issue.”, 27 June 2018, Accessed 28 Jan. 2019.

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