EFESan Juan

Roughly 40 percent of Puerto Ricans aged 65 and older, who make up around 16 percent of the Caribbean island's population, live in extreme poverty and the situation is getting worse, according to a study by the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, or PUCPR.

The author of the study, Dr. Hernan Vera, told Efe Thursday that the outlook is "discouraging" and that it falls on Puerto Rican authorities to tackle this serious problem.

Vera, dean of the Ponce-based PUCPR's College of Graduate Studies in Behavioral Sciences and Community Affairs , said the economic crisis that has battered Puerto Rico for nearly eight years is one of the reasons for growing poverty among the 65-and-older population, which in 2014 struggled to cope with food inflation of 2.1 percent.

Inflation in the health care sector, whose services are heavily used by this population, was 3.8 percent during that same period

The study primarily drew on 2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as figures from the U.S. Department of State and the University of Puerto Rico.

"It should call authorities' attention, because the situation is going to get worse," Vera said of the elderly population in the U.S. commonwealth, who numbered 574,817 people based on 2012 figures.

Of that total, the vast majority - 537,000 - are out of the workforce and therefore dependent on their pensions, most of which are insufficient to cover the high cost of living in Puerto Rico.

Among those 65 and older, only 10.35 percent have a private health insurance policy, while the rest depend entirely on the government health insurance program.

The study recommends that the government launch a campaign to inform business leaders about the elderly population's capabilities and potential and train that segment in self-management skills.