Four Year Anniversary of Hurricane Maria Series: Disabled Population

For the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College has prepared a new report series focusing on questions of social vulnerability. The Social vulnerability index as developed by the CDC/ATSDRexamines how communities are affected by external stresses such as poverty, disability, housing type and transportation access. The SVI can help emergency response planners and public health officials identify and map the communities that will most likely need support before, during, and after a hazardous event.

For this report series we have focused specifically on aging and disabled populations to help better understand how these groups are disproportionately impacted by disasters like Hurricane Maria, the 2020 earthquakes, power outages, flooding, and the COVID-19 pandemic. These events have had a compounding mental, physical, and socioeconomic effect on vulnerable populations like the elderly and the disabled. This report series analyzes the intersection between vulnerable populations (senior age and disabled population) and CDC’s social vulnerability index (SVI).

Key Findings:

  • Over one fifth of the Puerto Rican population is disabled. 21% of Puerto Rico’s population is disabled. This is significantly higher than the average for the fifty states which is 12.7%.  For US Latino’s it’s 9.1%
  • Puerto Rico’s disabled population is not equally distributed geographically. Instead, there are various pockets of disabled communities. Of all Puerto Rican municipalities, Guanica had the highest total percentage of disabled population at 37.5%. There are 3 barrios in Puerto Rico where 100% of the population is estimated to have a disability in 2019: Algarrobo barrio in Yauco, Juaca barrio in Jayuya, and the Collores barrio in Orocovis.
  • Half of Puerto Rico’s disabled population lives below the poverty line. This represents an increase of 4.8%, from 2017 and is statistically higher than the fifty states where only 20.0% of the disabled population is under the poverty rate.

Introduction

In 2019, 21.6% or 684,955 individuals in Puerto Rico had some form of disability.* During post-Hurricane Maria, the executive director of the Defensoría de las Personas con Impedimentos (DPI) stated in an interview that the government of Puerto Rico did not accurately prepare for the emergency to address the needs of people with disabilities (Acevedo and Amiri 2018). Disability prevalence increases with age and in the case of Puerto Rico, the largest share of people with a disability was highest among the 75 and over age group (61.9%) followed by the ’65 to 74’ (36.3%), ‘35-64 years’ (20.6%), ’5 to 17 years’ (11.2%), ‘18 to 34’ (8.1%), ‘under 5 years old’ (0.8%) in 2019. The U.S. Census Bureau lists six forms of disabilities: hearing disability, visual disability, cognitive disability,  ambulatory disability, self-care disability, and independent living disability. The highest prevalence rate in Puerto Rico was “ambulatory disability” with 12.2% in 2019, in which, the person has difficulty walking or climbing stairs. ‘Ambulatory difficulty’ was followed by 11.5% ‘with an independent living difficulty’, 9.8% ‘with a cognitive difficulty’, 6.6% ‘with a vision difficulty,’ 5.2% ‘with a self-care difficulty’, and lastly 4.4% ‘with a hearing difficulty.’

* This report follows the U.S. Census Bureau’s ‘disability’ term as impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions a person may experience in their daily lives. Forms of disability include the following: hearing disability, visual disability, cognitive disability,  ambulatory disability, self-care disability, and independent living disability.

Spatial Distribution of Disabled Population

In 2019, Guanica municipio had the highest percentage of disability at 37.5%. More than one-third of Guanica’s population had a disability in 2019 and this grew from 2017 by 9.6 percent. Four municipios in Puerto Rico had a disability percentage of at least 30 percent or higher: Guanica followed by Cayey (32.5%), Aguas Buenas (31.7%), and Sabana Grande (31.6%). Only four municipios had a disability percentage of less than 10 percent: Ceiba (9.6%), Las Marias (7.9%), Maricao (7.7%), and Vieques (6.7%).

Figure 1. Disabled Population by County, 2019

The county with the highest percent change of the disabled population, from 2017 to 2019, was Culebra. Culebra’s disabled population was at 7 percent in 2017, jumping up 67.1 percent to 11.7 percent in 2019. Culebra was followed by Hatillo (36.6%), Vega Alta (27.8%), Morovis (26.8%), and Lajas (24%). The following municipios had a rate of change of 20 percent or less.

Culebra also had one of the highest percentage changes through three age groups from 2017 to 2019. From 2017 to 2019, for the age group ’35 to 64 years old’, Culebra’s disabled population jumped 272.2 percent, from 1.8 percent in 2017 to 6.7 percent in 2019. Although the percentages are relatively small compared to other municipios the large increase of its rate of change percentage is quite drastic in 2 years. This notable increase can be seen in the two older age groups as well although not as drastic. From 2017 to 2019, Culebra also had the highest rate of changes in the ’65 to 74 years old’ and the ’75 years and over’ age groups. For the ’65 to 74 years old’ age group, from 2017 to 2019, Culebra’s disabled population increased by 72.1 percent, from 11.1 percent in 2017 to 19.10 percent in 2019. From 2017 to 2019, for the age group ’75 years and over’, Culebra’s disabled population increased by 51.9 percent, from 23.7 percent in 2017 to 36 percent in 2019.

Figure 2. Percent Change of Disabled Population 2017 to 2019 by County

Taking a closer look at the barrio level, in 2019, there were three barrios in three separate counties where 100 percent of the population is estimated to have a reported disability: Algarrobo barrio in Yauco, Juaca barrio in Jayuya county, and Collores barrio in Orocovis. However, the Algarrobo barrio in Yauco was the only one with a massive percentage change of 120.8% from 2017 to 2019. The other two barrios had a 0 percent rate of change from 2017 to 2019 as their disabled population remained the same at 100 percent. There were 27 barrios that had over a 100 percentage change with the top 5 being the following: Rosario Peñón barrio in San German (521.1%), Mulita Barrio in Aguas Buenas (376.4%), Torrecillas barrio in Morovis (374.2%), Playa Sardinas I barrio in Culebra (352.4%), and the Magueyes barrio in Corozal (296.4%).

Figure 3. Percentage Change of Disabled Population by Barrio, 2017-2019

Poverty

Figure 4. Disabled Population below the Poverty Level: 2017 to 2019

In 2019, half of the disabled population in Puerto Rico was living below the poverty level at 50.5%. This is significantly higher than the fifty states where only 20 percent of the disabled population is below the poverty level. Compared to the United states, where the fifty states had a decrease of -2.2 percent between 2017 and 2019, Puerto Rico’s disabled population living below the poverty level increased by 4.8 percent from 20.4 percent in 2017.

Taking a look at the county level, in 2019, Adjuntas had the largest percentage of those who were disabled living below the poverty level at 66.8%, followed by Moca (64.9%), Jayuya (63.5%), Lares (62.9%), Isabela (62.6%), Lajas (61.4%), Guanica (61.4%), Comerio (60.4%), and Orocovis (60%). The following counties had a percentage of those disabled living below the poverty level below 60 percent. However, 44 counties had at least half their disabled population living below the poverty level. In addition, Vieques had the highest rate of change from 2017 to 2019 at a 50.4 percent increase. In comparison to the other municipios and their rate of changes, Vieques rate of change was notable. Vieques was followed by Naguabo (18.7%), San German (13.1%), and Manati (13.1%). The following counties had less than an 8 percent rate of change from 2017 to 2019.

Figure 5. Percentage Change of Disabled Population Below the Poverty Level, 2017-2019

Taking a closer look at barrios, in 2019, 4 barrios in Puerto Rico had 100 percent of their total population with a disability and also living below the poverty line; Guayabo Dulce barrio in Adjuntas, Piedras barrio en Cayey, Jauca barrio en Jayuya, and Rio Abajo barrio in Utuado. 100 percent of those residing in the Juaca barrio in Jayuya have a disability and are living below the poverty line therefore 100 percent of the disabled population in Juaca are living below the poverty line. Juaca barrio is followed by Algarrobo barrio in Yauco (83.1%), Purísima Concepción barrio in Las Marias (50%), Diego Hernández barrio in Yauco (48.5%), and Collores barrio in Orocovis (45.10%). The following counties have less than half of their population that has a disability and living below the poverty line.There are 34 barrios that 100% of their disabled population live below the poverty line.

Figure 6. Disabled Population Below the Poverty Level by Barrio, 2019