For the first time in more than 50 years, the American Flag could add a new star. The Governor of Puerto Rico announced this week that the island will hold a 2012 vote on whether it will become the nation’s 51st state.
However, now that the U.S. is in one of the worst financial situations it has seen since the Great Depression, is it appropriate to consider another addition to our federal roster?
Concerns about an additional state range from the trivial fear that our flag will lose its aesthetic appeal – although there are some decent renditions of a 51-star flag – to the very real economic fear that Puerto Rico’s poor will become a drain on our already limited financial resources.
On the one hand, Puerto Rico has a multitude of resources, from a well-educated population and disciplined workforce, to a number of natural and agricultural resources. Its most successful industry is in the manufacturing sector, where it is now the hub for the world’s pharmaceutical companies.
But let’s face it, the economic picture of Puerto Rico is anything but rosy: If it were a state, it would be the poorest, with per capita incomes around one third of the U.S. average. Its unemployment is higher than any state at 16%, and 45% of the population lives below the poverty line. Not exactly good marketing points for statehood.
Some believe that the island’s economy has made recent improvements despite the stagnant U.S. economy upon which it mostly depends. Since his inauguration, Governor Fortuño has overseen a slew of drastic changes to the government, its bureaucratic system, and its tax structure. Decreasing government spending and controlling the budget allowed for a credit rating upgrade, even while the U.S. was downgraded. Decreasing taxes for corporations has invited investment from a multitude of sectors, which promises future growth, again, at a time when the U.S. economy is struggling to grow. All of these adjustments have improved the economy; however, the drastic improvements that everyone is waiting for may still take years to develop.
What is most at stake here may be equality and fairness. Many say that the American citizens on the island are not treated with the same regard as Americans from the States.
Residents of Puerto Rico are not allowed to vote for their commander-in-chief, even though they have served in the military, with distinction, and died in every war since the Spanish-American.
Puerto Rico can send an elected “Commissioner” to voice their opinions in Congress, but he has no legal vote on any issue, even those affecting Puerto Rico.
Many organizations have sprouted up attempting to fight the perceived inequality. Rafael Rodriguez, President of the Center for Puerto Rico Equality and Advancement, agrees that equality is largely at issue, and if treated equally, Puerto Ricans would be able to greatly contribute.
“Equality is something that must be fought for, it will not be given. In the free market of ideas, Puerto Rico has a strong and valuable potential to continue to contribute to our nation,” said Mr. Rodriguez. His organization believes that statehood is the answer to inequality for Puerto Ricans on the island.
It seems as though the argument for Puerto Rico has always been about which status will help them the most: independence, statehood, or the status quo. Yet, despite the many arguments about freedom and fairness there really is only one way that Puerto Rico will have the real freedom to be successful: by improving their economic outlook.
When they are able to do that Puerto Rico may be able to successfully answer the inevitable question that Congress will ask if the people choose statehood: “What can you do for us?”