The U.S. Census Bureau has released new numbers on Puerto Rico’s population that demonstrate a continued decline. According to the data, Puerto Rico’s population fell from 3,726,157 in 2010 to 3,411,307 in 2016, a loss of 8.4% in four years. While the birth rate in Puerto Rico has dropped, the main reason for the population loss is that people are leaving Puerto Rico for the States in increasingly large numbers.
Puerto Rico’s former resident commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pedro Pierluisi, commented on the dwindling population in 2015, when the loss was just 4.7%. ““Every month, thousands of island residents vote for statehood with their feet, in search of political rights and economic opportunity,” he explained. “There is no better evidence that the current territory status has failed, and that statehood is the right status for Puerto Rico, than these stunning numbers.”
Research into the reasons for the massive increases in Puerto Rican migration consistently finds that the economic meltdown in the territory, together with high crime rates, create a strong impetus for moving. An opportunity for a better life is readily available to Puerto Ricans, since they are U.S. citizens and can easily move to a State, where they can enjoy greater opportunities and benefits.
Caribbean Business recently suggested, citing a combination of moving company estimates and anonymous statements, that relocation from Puerto Rico to the states is slowing down. The Pew Research Center’s March 2017 report disagrees. They project a continuing decline in Puerto Rico’s population, anticipating that the Island’s number will fall to 3,000,000 by 2050.
Economist Lyman Stone offers a very detailed examination of the possibility of stabilization in Puerto Rico’s population, examining data including air travel reports as well as census data and a range of estimates. “We could be looking at centuries, or even permanent, depopulation of Puerto Rico,” he says, comparing Puerto Rico’s population losses to those of Ireland during the Great Famine. Ireland has never recovered.
While Stone says that the speed of Puerto Rico’s depopulation may be slowing, he doesn’t hold out much hope if there is not a change in Puerto Rico’s circumstances. Continuing as an unincorporated territory will probably not lead to improvements.