Puerto Rico’s Children a Year After Maria

Even before the arrival of hurricane María, the conditions in which Puerto Rico’s children and youth developed were already dire. The Youth Development Institute’s (Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud, IDJ) Well-Being Index, is an in-depth snapshot of the state of Puerto Rico’s children (ages 0 to 21) and the conditions they live in. The Well-Being Index consistently gave Puerto Rico a “D” grade due to its high levels of child poverty and academic progress, among other issues.

In 2017, 57.8% of children lived under the poverty level and 38.5% lived in extreme poverty. According to the KIDS COUNT® Data Book 2018, which is published on an annual basis by the Annie E. Kasey Foundation, these children are not only the poorest population group in the island, but also the poorest group when compared to other United States jurisdictions

For this reason, we now need to analyze the conditions our children live in, a year after Maria, so that we may develop public policies that address their needs during the recovery period. With this in mind, the IDJ developed “The Impact of Hurricane Maria’s on Puerto Rico’s Children” (El Impacto del Huracán María en la Niñez de Puerto Rico), a study with the goal of identifying the hurricane’s impact on children in the areas of education, health, economic security and housing; it also presents an assessment of the government’s response in matters related to children.

This study was made possible by the support of Save the Children, Massachusetts United Fund and the Fundación Angel Ramos (Angel Ramos Foundation). Once it is completed in December, the study will integrate quantitative components though a community survey developed by Estudios Técnicos, Inc. (Technical Studies) and qualitative components through the use focus groups, interviews with key respondents and data analysis. The qualitative portion will be led by a multi-disciplinary group from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, under the leadership of Dra. Maria Enchantegui. Additionally, it will include a public policy guide to address the needs of Puerto Rico’s children and youth during the recovery process

As part of the quantitative analysis methodology, a representative sample of 705 families with children under 17 years of age was chosen. Among the findings, special attention should be given to the fact that the life of minors living in poverty is more susceptible to instability and other negative effects resulting from hurricane Maria. For example, families with an annual income of $15,000 or less faced a higher likelihood of:

  • Their homes flooding:
    • 40% were victims of flooding
  • Not having access to food:
    • 24.7% were not able to provide food for their children after the hurricane
  • Separating from a family member:
    • 7.3% of children living in poverty were separated from a family member as a result of the hurricane
  • Losing clothing and personal belongings:
    • 47% lost personal belongings

Additionally, these children living in poverty were more likely to experience a worsening economic situation in their homes. The findings show that:

  • 22.5% of their families experienced a loss of employment
  • 13.2% of their families lost their vehicles
  • 32.3% of their families said their financial situation declined, which was demonstrated after the hurricane by instability and difficulties in:
    • Paying for power and water
    • Buying food
    • Making cell phone payments
    • Buying clothing and personal effects
    • Buying school supplies

Furthermore, the hurricane increased migration, with 30.5% of families with children leaning towards moving out of Puerto Rico. According to June 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau – Population Division, the period of 2007 to 2017 saw an of 34.5% of the juvenile population in the island. In 2017, the estimated minor population was of 656,796, which is 37,300 less children in comparison to 2016.

Another important finding is the impact caused by the interruptions in academic routines for minors, especially for special education students or students with other disabilities. This affected their behavior and sense of appreciation and commitment to school. For example, children between the ages of 5 and 17 lost approximately 78 school days, and 23% of these children display changes in behavior at school, while 12% had problems focusing at school.

These preliminary results reflect the issues faced by families with children lacking the resources to handle stress, tension or trauma situations; they were severely affected by the hurricane and the long period of difficulties it left in its wake, which in turn greatly affected their already complicated economic situation.

The final study, including its qualitative and quantitative components, will be completed by December 2018. For the time being, we urge public policy leaders at the local and federal levels to stay alert to the final results of the study, and to remember that the economic, social and emotional stability of children is essential to the economic development and well-being of Puerto Rico in the long-term.

If you would like to access the preliminary results of the study, you can visit the Library section of our website HERE. You can also e-mail us at info@juventudpr.org so we can add you to our mailing list.