The population of Puerto Rico continues to decline according to recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Government data from July of 2012 show Puerto Rico’s population to be 3,667,084, a decrease of more than 27,000 from 2011 and a reduction of more than 54,000 since 2010. The overall U.S. population increased over the same period.
The 2000 Census pegged Puerto Rico’s population at 3,808,610, a number that has steadily decreased over time. Puerto Rico lost 2.2% of its population between 2000 and 2010, and the rate of loss has increased since the 2010 survey.
There’s no mystery about where the people of Puerto Rico are going: it is often noted that over 2,000 Puerto Ricans leave Puerto Rico every month to settle in a state of the United States, a number that can be supported by the recent Census data. The influx of Puerto Rican migration to the states has also been documented by the Pew Hispanic Center and other Census data.
“The key is emigration,” explained economist Vicent Feliciano to Caribbean Business. “There is the incorrect perception that the ones emigrtating are the professional and better educated. The truth is that pretty much everyone is emigrating. Or rather, everyone young is emigrating. Therefore, the Puerto Rico population is getting older at a rate only seen in the likes of China and Japan.”
Puerto Ricans, as citizens of the United States, can travel freely to the mainland – and they have. There are now more than 4.7 Puerto Ricans living on the mainland – more than a million more people than live in Puerto Rico.
This loss of human capital has been cited as a reason for the recent downgrade of Puerto Rico by Moody’s Investors Service. Many commentators have expressed concern about the “brain drain” and the aging of Puerto Rico’s population as young professionals choose to move to the mainland.
Why are the people of Puerto Rico leaving the island?
The most common suggestions are the level of unemployment, estimated at about 14%, and the increasing problem of violence, mostly drug-related. A 2012 poll listed “better quality of life” as the main reason given by Puerto Ricans who were considering leaving the island.
Governor Garcia-Padilla has initiated a campaign assuring Puerto Ricans that “Somos mas grandes” — we are bigger than our problems. “We are an island full of talent and with the intellect, courage and experience to show that we are bigger than the problems we face,” he is quoted as saying.
The prospect of statehood, with its likelihood of improving economic conditions and decreasing violence, may also help slow down the exodus. (Click here for previous posts documenting economic progress for Alaska and Hawaii upon achieving statehood.)