It is unlikely we’ll ever reach President Obama’s fifty-seven states, but we may soon become a country of fifty-one United States. In a non-binding referendum on Sunday, Puerto Rico voted on the issue. Statehood handily won the vote.
Merely voting for statehood is no guarantee, of course. The District of Columbia voted to become the 51st state in November, but they still need to appeal before Congress and have President Trump approve the necessary legislation. We have yet to see any of this take place.
Presuming D.C. becomes “New Columbia,” Puerto Rico will technically be the 52nd state.
I’d like to note some key differences, though, that make D.C. statehood a much likelier event.
Puerto Rico’s economy is in shambles. Unemployment on the island is currently at 12%. The national debt is at a staggering $70 billion. Some say that statehood would improve their financial outlook, but others “warn that the island will lose its cultural identity and struggle even more financially because it will suddenly have to pay millions of dollars in federal taxes.”
On the other hand D.C. is an affluent area that is well-suited for the tax laws. Its unemployment rate (at 5.9%) is more manageable, as it matches the general economic landscape of the rest of the country.
The referendum on Sunday overwhelmingly favored statehood, with 97% in favor. The kicker is that only 23% of the island’s 3.4 million residents participated, making actual interest difficult to gauge. Back in 2012, turnout was at 77%, meaning that 1.8 million people voted then as opposed to the 518,000 who voted this past weekend.
In the D.C. election, 65% of residents voted. Of those, 79% voted in favor of statehood. This is a more reliable base of support from which to work.
Nevertheless, Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello vowed to his people that he would campaign for statehood. He believes it will bring stability to a nation that hangs in the balance, where 45% of its people live in poverty.
But some Puerto Rican citizens, like Carolina Santos, a single-mother struggling to make house payments, hopes the government can set statehood aside and focus on its own problematic economy and education system.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the overall total of Puerto Rico’s national debt. It has been edited to correct the amount.