The alternatives to provide these children with real opportunities for their healthy physical and mental development, so that they can progress and contribute to Puerto Rico, are within the reach of government decisions. Adopting them requires understanding and willingness to reorganize budget priorities.
Poverty strikes 58 percent of children in Puerto Rico. Not resolving this inequality carries a high economic and moral price for everyone. According to estimates, it costs the island $4.418 billion each year. Worse yet, it deprives every child in these conditions of opportunities for full development.
A new study by the Puerto Rico Youth Institute (IDJ, Spanish acronym) proposes specific measures that have the potential to lift 141,000 children out of poverty over a decade. Each has a multiplying impact on the whole society, which can be positive depending on the tools provided for them to move forward.
It is estimated that 37 percent of children live in extreme poverty with a family income of less than $4,000 a year. That figure represents about a quarter of a million children-242,720-. A society that allows such injustice to happen is hurting itself.
For the IDJ an $8.314 billion investment could help reduce child poverty by up to 10% over three years. And within a decade, child poverty would drop to 37 percent.
Poverty has an impact on the wellbeing and academic achievement of these citizens. It makes them more likely to drop out of school and reduces their chances of getting well-paid jobs. These conditions make them vulnerable, falling easy prey to crime, driving them to despair and sowing death.
In recent days, we have once again witnessed the face of children in poverty, amid the emergency in the island´s southwestern area. Many remain sleeping outdoors, not only because of fear but also because of the fragility of their homes and the lack of resources to temporarily move to another place.
These children desperately need mental health services in the wake of the earthquake that hit the island less than three years after Hurricane María. But like those who share their reality, they are still exposed to safety, health and environmental threats stemming, in turn, from natural, economic and social challenges. Poverty reproduces vulnerabilities. That is why eliminating poverty must be a priority in the plans to rebuild Puerto Rico.
Amid the emergency triggered by the January earthquakes and the distrust of institutions, the third sector continues to offer guidance and advice to the government to effectively respond to the citizens´ pressing needs. Particularly those who will bear the consequences of the decisions taken about the reconstruction process.
The experts who worked on the study recommend ten policies that could have the greatest beneficial impact over the next ten years. They consist of strategies on taxes, economic and labor policies, others to eliminate barriers to employment, and human capital development policies. They should be welcomed as a priority.
Even amid the fiscal crisis, Puerto Rico has the funds to adopt some of the proposed strategies. There are federal funds available for other measures. In any case, what is missing here is redirecting priorities and will. Child poverty hurts lives. It is time to start working to eliminate it. In every life abused by poverty, there is also the potential to lead great economic, scientific, cultural and social transformations, for Puerto Rico and the world.