Puerto Ricans Choose Statehood by Moving

Puerto Ricans have voted for statehood but an increasing number have obtained it for their families by moving to a state — their right as U.S. citizens.

The 2010 U.S. Census showed that Puerto Rico’s population had decreased for the first time since the U.S. acquired the territory through the Spanish-American War.  The initial U.S. count of the population after the U.S. flag was raised was 894,302.

U.S. Census figures since 2010 have indicated an acceleration in movement from the territory to the States.

The migration is attributable to the failing Commonwealth economy.  It has not been good for four decades. Income growth for Puerto Ricans in the territory has lagged behind that of residents of the States for four decades.  The economy began to stall in 2001 under a “Commonwealth” party governor.  It has been in recession for eight years, losing one fifth of its jobs, with the exception of 11 months during 2012, when it grew a bare .1%.

During the 1950s and ’60s — when there was economic growth, a “Commonwealth” party government tried to reduce poverty by encouraging people to move to the States. Nearly one million did.  Since 2001 almost 300,000 have moved. This includes about 144,000 from 2010 through ’13.

The territory’s population has shrunk from 3,808,610 in 2000 to 3,725,789 in 2010 to 3,615,086 as of July 1, 2013.

At this point, more people of Puerto Rican origin live in a State than in the territory, with almost 5 million in the States.  Nearly a third of those in the States were born in the Puerto Rico.  Others are children or grandchildren of those who have moved.

The 2010 U.S. Census count and estimates each July 1 since then show the impact on the territory’s population of the increase in fleeing the Commonwealth for a State.

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The net loss to Puerto Rico’s population after accounting for births at a reduced rate because of people moving away and deaths as well as migration from July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013 alone has been 110,703.

The total loss is only part of the story.

The 2000 to 2010 population drop was 2.2 percent over 10 years. The 2013 figures represent a decrease of 3% since 2010.

Those who leave the Commonwealth for the States are disproportionately young, educated people. In 2010, nearly 15% of residents were aged 65 or older; by 2013, that segment of the population had increased to 16.4%. This is a result not only of younger workers leaving, but also of retirement to Puerto Rico by those who moved to the mainland in their younger days.

At the same time, the birth rate in Puerto Rico is declining, from about 11 per 1,000 in 2010 to 10 in 1,000 now. This is probably related to the aging of the population.

Puerto Rico’s elderly are particular victims of the Commonwealth’s unequal treatment with the States in Federal programs. Medicare provides lesser benefits in the territory. The Federal government provides almost no assistance to the elderly poor in Puerto Rico under its primary programs for assisting impoverished aged individuals. The Commonwealth receives much less than a State in Medicaid, which supplements Medicare in the case of low-income seniors.

With it being more difficult for these people to leave the Commonwealth for the greener pastures of a State, the Federal treatment of this segment of the population creates further problems for a territory not able to meet their needs. The Commonwealth’s failure to receive billions of dollars a year that Puerto Rico would as a State — even after equal taxation with the States — is a significant factor in Puerto Rico’s failed economy, which is only getting worse.

Yet with limited job opportunities for its young people and an uncertain future, it will be difficult for Puerto Rico to slow down the population decline.

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