Puerto Ricans Flocking to U.S. Mainland

August 18, 2014

Puerto Ricans are leaving the island in droves and moving to the U.S. mainland, according to a report from the Pew Research Center by D'Vera Cohn, Eileen Patten and Mark Hugo Lopez. From the middle of 2010 through 2013, 144,000 more people left Puerto Rico than came to the island -- a migration gap larger than in the decade between 1980 and 1990 (when Puerto Rico lost a net 126,000 residents) and 1990 to 2000 (when it lost a net 111,000).

Those leaving the island have cited economic issues as the primary reason for relocating. According to the Current Population Survey, 42 percent of Puerto Ricans born on the island move to the United States mainland for job-related reasons, while 38 percent move for "household/family" reasons. Since 2006, there have been more Puerto Ricans on the mainland United States (at 4.9 million in 2012) than on the island (3.5 million).

The Pew report cites the island's flagging economy, especially after a 2006 economic crisis, as a primary driver of the move.

  • Those remaining on the island tend to be more educated and hold skilled jobs than those leaving.
  • A 2012 report by the Federal Reserve reveals that Puerto Rico has high unemployment, accompanied by a poor labor force participation rate, and many residents rely on food stamps.
  • In 2006, Puerto Rico ended corporate tax breaks that had been in place for many years. As a result, many businesses closed and workers lost their jobs.
  • This year, Puerto Rico's debt was downgraded to junk status by ratings agencies.

The move to the mainland is a change in course for Puerto Rico, whose population had been growing since the 1700s, according to the Pew Report. In 2009, the island's population had reached 4 million. Just four years later, the figure had dropped to 3.6 million.

Source: D'Vera Cohn, Eileen Patten and Mark Hugo Lopez, "Puerto Rican Population Declines on Island, Grows on U.S. Mainland," Pew Research Center, August 11, 2014.

 

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