A recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York demonstrates that the movement of Puerto Ricans away from the territory is not merely a consequence of the depression that began just over a decade ago — and is even less due to the current debt crisis — but, instead, is a long-term phenomenon, although the economic decline and debt crisis have exacerbated the migration.
The “large outflow of potentially productive workers and taxpayers is an alarming trend that is likely to have profound consequences for the Island for years to come,” concluded the bog post.
More people have moved away from the islands than to them every year since 1990, with the exceptions of 1995-7, although net migration was essentially flat in 1995 and ’97 and was only positive in 1996. The rate has been steadily negative since 1998, with bigger drops beginning in in 1999, 2005 – when economic activity was at its peak, 2011, and 2013, according to the study.
From 2000 through 2015, net migration away from the islands, which now have a population of about 3.4 million, was 600,000.
The population has also declined due to natural causes (birth and deaths) since 1997, with an acceleration of the negative rate in 2000.
Together, migration and natural causes have resulted in the population declining 10% from its peak of more than 3.8 million between 2004 (two years before the depression began) and 2015. It is now lower than it was 25 years ago, according to the analyses. (Economic activity is now back down to its 1993 level.)
The economists responsible for the study built upon another NY Federal Reserve Bank report in 2014. It pointed out that Arkansas and Wyoming experienced periods of population decline at twice the rate being experienced in Puerto Rico and that the population loss in West Virginia and North and South Dakota had, at times, been worse than in Puerto Rico now.
The new analysis also clarified that migration away from Puerto Rico is different from the ‘brain drain’ it is often said to be. Those moving tend to have less skills and earnings than those who remain in the islands.
They are also younger than the average Puerto Rican. With lower birth rates, this has significantly increased the average age of residents of the territory — and the natural need for social services.
Economic growth in Puerto Rico began to falter in the 1970s. The islands have also been underdeveloped economically compared with the States.
It is natural for Puerto Ricans to move from the territory to a State, where they can immediately enjoy great economic, social, and political opportunities and benefits.
About one-third of the five million people of Puerto Rican origin in the States were born in the islands.