Florida has seen a booming Puerto Rican population over the past few years. One thing bringing Puerto Ricans to the state rapidly is people seeking economic opportunities that they cannot currently find on the island.
An easy fix to promote economic growth in Puerto Rico is for Congress to act on the democratic will of the Puerto Rican people and make the island the 51st state.
With the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act, our elected officials, like Representative Dan Webster, can encourage economic development on the island – which in turn will benefit Florida – while also supporting a political position that will help move the state toward the economic and social center-right.
In November, Puerto Rico had a question on their general election ballot that asked voters if they wanted Puerto Rico to be admitted into the Union as a state. The majority, 52.34%, said “Yes” to statehood of the island. This was the third such vote on Puerto Rico’s status that has taken place on the island since 2012. In each previous election, statehood earned the most support of any status option. But in order for Puerto Rico to become a state, it takes an act of Congress.
The economic benefits from territories becoming states are well documented throughout American history. Our latest entries into the Union, Alaska and Hawaii, realized the positive economic benefits of statehood quickly.
Time magazine detailed how Hawaii underwent “immediate and radical change, largely in the form of unprecedented economic growth.” Hawaii saw a rapid increase in tourism and also saw an expansion of industries on the island and a diversification of their agricultural sector.
In Alaska, wages and disposable income grew across all jobs and professions, and according to Alaskan Department of Labor and Workforce Development, by the end of the 1970s, Alaska’s “near complete dependence on the federal government and outside corporate interests had diminished dramatically.”
The point regarding dependence on the federal government is critical. Many have pointed to Puerto Rico’s current debt crisis as a reason to oppose statehood. But the United States already sends billions in aid to the island. And history shows that statehood could solve Puerto Rico’s existing debt crisis. Along with stability, statehood would bring more tourism, more companies, and better jobs to the island, allowing the Puerto Rican government to collect more tax revenue and finally address their debt.
More consumers with better-paying jobs on the island is also good for Florida. It would help Puerto Ricans be able to afford to purchase more goods and services from the mainland – with Florida being the most obvious and immediate beneficiary, and make it more likely they will come and visit one of the many tourist attractions in the state.
Outside of the economic benefits, there are political reasons to support statehood, which has been a part of the Republican platform for decades. One major reason: many Puerto Rican voters are social conservatives and lean center-right on economic issues. Puerto Rico’s current elected representative in Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, caucuses with Republicans. Puerto Ricans as a whole are swing voters, much like Floridians.
Statehood for Puerto Rico would be an instant hit in Florida, where over one million Puerto Ricans have settled. In what seems like a rare occurrence in politics these days, statehood for Puerto Rico is the right thing to do politically and economically.
Ludivina López is the pastor of the multicultural and bilingual Senda Church in Tavares. She resides in Leesburg, Florida.