While searching through the increasingly depressing news reports concerning Puerto Rico, I found an interesting subject picked up by several different websites. Researchers have found that a majority of Puerto Ricans – almost 75 percent – regularly give charitable donations. That’s interesting for several reasons: that’s about 20 percent higher than the average for the rest of the U.S., Puerto Rico’s been in an economic decline for at least over a decade, and poverty levels in Puerto Rico are much higher than in the rest of the nation. Why then, are Puerto Ricans so willing to give up the few dollars left in their pockets?
Charity in Puerto Rico is a complicated topic to talk about, mainly because of the corruption that can often run unchecked through the island’s institutions. One such example is a local charity managed by the governor’s brother, its only employee, and a former New York union representative of Puerto Rican descent. The charity receives donations from the biggest companies doing business in Puerto Rico, and even the most casual observer can point out the nepotism and system of “pay-to-play” kickback politics. Worse still is the ammunition it gives to those who want to make sure no federal funds go to the island’s government, at a time when the effects of such are devastating.
Even with the less than ethical behavior of some charities, significant giving still goes and ostensibly manages to find its way to the actual people. A number of charities, including the one that initiated the study, both outside and based in Puerto Rico have been able to serve thousands of people on the island with donations from both locally and the mainland. However, according to the study, most Puerto Ricans prefer to partake in informal acts of charity, like donating directly to neighbors and family. A majority of those sampled knew next to nothing about giving through official channels. It’s also important to note that the study separated the population by general and high net worth households, the latter being those above $150,000 annual income or $1 million net worth. Though somewhat more gave to charity – about 88 percent – it was less than the average in the mainland U.S.
Puerto Rico has increased incentives for charitable giving, including the 2011 PR Tax Code which increased tax deductions for donations to 10 percent. However, most of those in the study had no idea this law existed, including quite a few high net worth households. Whether this is due to a widespread lack of exposure and education from philanthropic non-profits, or from an inherent distrust of institutions caused by corruption, it’s hard to say. What can be said is that there is a lot of untapped potential in Puerto Rico.
If you’ve read through our previous postings (which, you know, I’d personally recommend), then you have an idea of what we believe about Puerto Rican unity. While we – Puerto Ricans on both the mainland and island – can sometimes disappoint each other greatly, we continuously show that beyond the violence, racism, and self-hate we do care about each other deep down, even if we won’t admit it on an individual level. If that could be harnessed en masse, we could actually start to fix some of the internal problems on the island.