Poverty, Birth Complications, Family Problems Affect Well-Being of Children and Youth in Puerto Rico

March 15 2011

Nayda I. Rivera-Hernández
(787) 649-9501

New NCLR report documents risks in each of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipios

San Juan, P.R.—The 2010 KIDS COUNT – Puerto Rico Data Book, released today by NCLR (National Council of La Raza), illustrates a troubling statistical portrait of children and youth in Puerto Rico through an examination of the conditions for children in each of the island’s 78 municipios. At a press briefing held today at United Way of Puerto Rico, demographic experts from NCLR and the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health explained their mounting concerns for the well-being of children throughout the island and their prospects for the future.

Researchers collected and analyzed extensive data about Puerto Rican residents under the age of 18, gathering information about their demography, health, education and socioeconomic well-being. The book highlights some of NCLR researchers’ most important and worrisome findings: hundreds of children in Puerto Rico die every year and thousands more are at risk of not reaching their full potential due to poverty, family structure or risky behavior.

“In order to have policies that effectively support our young people, we need comprehensive data and we must understand the factors that affect their well-being,” said Nayda Rivera-Hernández, NCLR Senior Research Analyst and author of the report. “The 2010 KIDS COUNT – Puerto Rico Data Book challenges us all—policymakers, nonprofits, community groups and the private sector—to take a fact-based look at children and youth in Puerto Rico and ask what we can do to improve their future and that of our nation.”

According to the book, children and youth in Puerto Rico tend to be clustered in specific regions of the island. More than one in four under the age of 18 (27.5%) live in one of the following five municipios: San Juan, Bayamón, Ponce, Carolina and Caguas. The population ranges from just 500 in Culebra to more than 96,000 in San Juan.

Other key findings from the 2010 KIDS COUNT – Puerto Rico Data Book include:

  • Disturbing rates of child poverty. During 2006–2008, child poverty rates ranged from 35.4% in Trujillo Alto to 77.8% in Orocovis. The municipios with relatively large urban populations, such as Bayamón, Caguas, Carolina, San Juan and Arecibo, had relatively low rates of public assistance use.
  • High rates of youth who are idle. Out of all U.S. jurisdictions, Puerto Rico has the highest percent of teens not attending school and not working (14.6%). Humacao (21.1%) and San Lorenzo (19.7) top the list of municipios with available data for 2006–2008.
  • Elevated risk of health complications at birth. Children born in southern municipios, such as Sabana Grande (29.4%), San Germán (28.0%), Maricao (26.0%), Gurabo (25.5%) and Guánica (25.0%), face higher risks of being born prematurely than children born in the northern municipios. Other municipios including Humacao (64.5%), Naranjito (62.4%), San Lorenzo (62.3%), Las Piedras (62.1%) and Yabucoa (61.5%) have the highest percentages of cesarean births in Puerto Rico.
  • High rates of teenage parents. Although Puerto Rico has one of the highest teen birth rates in the U.S., municipios in rural areas and the center of the island have the highest rates on the island. Vieques (114.4 per 1,000 females ages 15–19), Cataño (96.7), Comerío (92.1), Ciales (85.9) and Arroyo (82.6) have the highest teen birth rates, while Lares (28.7 per 1,000 females ages 15–19), Aguada (34.9), Quebradillas (36.1), Trujillo Alto (38.3) and Hormigueros (38.3) have the lowest rates.

“Despite data that show many obstacles faced by children and youth in Puerto Rico, we must remember that children are resilient,” said Rivera-Hernández. “If our policies can be directed toward helping them lead healthy and safe lives so they can learn and achieve academically, then we will have productive citizens who are prepared for the challenges of the future.”

NCLR has managed the KIDS COUNT – Puerto Rico project for the past nine years and has contributed to strengthening information about the well-being of children and youth by publishing reports, maintaining the KIDS COUNT Data Center online database as a free resource, and engaging in multiple initiatives to advocate for children on the island.

NCLR has called for improved collection and accessibility of data on children and youth in Puerto Rico and has recommended that children on the island be included in national surveys. In addition, NCLR has urged agencies in Puerto Rico that collect data to use smaller age breakdowns, as opposed to grouping all children into the “under 18” category, and has pushed for child welfare data be published online regularly.

This research was funded in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, through its support of NCLR’s KIDS COUNT – Puerto Rico project.