Puerto Ricans are American too, but most people don't know that

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: An American flag and Puerto Rican flag fly next to each other in Old San Juan a day after the Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: An American flag and Puerto Rican flag fly next to each other in Old San Juan a day after the Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Residents of Puerto Rico have been granted American citizenship by birth since 1917, but a recent poll shows only 43 percent of Americans know Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

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In the Economist-YouGov survey of 2,000 U.S. citizens aged 18 and older, another 41 percent said they believe Puerto Ricans are only citizens of Puerto Rico, but that's not true because Puerto Rico isn't an independent country. Another 15 percent of people surveyed said they weren't sure of Puerto Ricans' citizenship.

Knowing whether residents of Puerto Rico are Puerto Rican or American can be confusing.

The distinction is important because Puerto Rico is in financial trouble with more than $70 billion in debt and its neighbor to the north may help pay its bills. The financial crisis prompted the U.S. Congress to come up with a solution last week.

But the same poll found almost a third of those surveyed aren't following Puerto Rico's financial trouble at all.

Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony until 1898 when the United States gained control of the island in the Spanish-American War. Congress passed the Jones Act in 1917, granting citizenship and other rights to residents of the island and creating a representative government.

Puerto Rico remains a territory of the United States, but it has only a nonvoting delegate in Congress, it doesn't vote for president in general elections and its residents don't pay federal taxes.

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