A long time ago, I had a debate with my friend (and sometimes co-blogger) Doug Muir about Puerto Rico. Was it really that much better off as a territory of the United States? He mentioned that Costa Rica was not all that bad off. I said, yes, true ... but the place is not in the same league as Puerto Rico.
How big is the difference?
Well, the nominal median household income in Puerto Rico in 2014 was $18,928. Meanwhile, the middle quintile of Costa Rican households earned between $3,597 and $5,933 per year. The human development index for Costa Rica is about 0.77, versus 0.87 in Puerto Rico. Crime is higher in Puerto Rico, which in 2015 clocked in at 16 homicides per 100,000 versus 12 in Costa Rica, but both places are in the same league.
Even if you use a generous purchasing power parity adjustment for Costa Rica, the place is still dreadfully poor compared to Puerto Rico. The OECD uses a PPP exchange rate of 370 colones per dollar: at that rate, the middle quintile in Costa Rica earns between $5,202 and $8,581 per year. (Note that while costs in Puerto Rico are not much less than on the mainland, they are less than on the mainland. But people who tell you otherwise are not crazy: milk and vegetables are far more expensive for reasons which I do not understand while electricity is far pricier for reasons that I understand full well. Those three items are highly visible and can easily make the island feel more expensive the mainland.)
And Puerto Rico lacks the kind of horrible rural poverty that you can easily find in Costa Rica.
In short, Puerto Rico is facing an economic crisis of biblical proportions. It has a very difficult decade ahead of it. Puerto Ricans have a lot to dislike about the institutions that link the island to the rest of the United States. But the residents of that island are still far better off than they would be had those links never existed.