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Is Puerto Rico’s Population Drop Really a ‘Brain Drain’?

Puerto Rico is seeing an exodus: The territory’s population has been decreasing by about 100 every day for the past few years, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Most of the drop is due to Puerto Ricans moving to the States for the better life that a State offers than a territory does.

A sampling of headlines of news media reports on the migration makes the general media take on the issue clear:

Puerto Rico, they say, plagued with economic troubles and high crime, is losing its best and brightest to the mainland.

However, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies questions whether it is accurate to refer to this exodus as a “brain drain,” as many journalists have. Its research concluded that the loss has been largely among young people — but not just young professionals or even young workers.

Many of the people moving to the mainland are children moving with their families. Among the working people, there seems to be a normal distribution of skills and education, with people in blue collar fields as likely to leave as professionals, according to the Center study.

The result, it says, is not that Puerto Rico is losing its professionals so much as it is that Puerto Rico is losing its youth. More than 77% of the people leaving for the mainland are under age 45 and nearly all the rest are under 65. Add in the number of Puerto Ricans who came to the States in their youth and choose to retire to Puerto Rico, and the result is a substantial level of aging in the population.

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, one of the researchers, says, ““Puerto Rico’s best resource is its people, its human capital, no matter the skill set… Puerto Rico is losing its most natural, precious resource” referring to the young, who are the future of any community or society.

Whatever the demographics, it is also clear that so many Puerto Ricans are voting with airline tickets for statehood for themselves and their families that the population is in serious decline. The territory, which had 3.809 million people in the year 2000, had only 3.721 million in 2010, and the Census Bureau’s estimate was that this number fell to 3.615 million a year ago.


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