Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN, March 24, 2014
In 2011 and 2012, about 55,000 residents migrated from the island to the mainland each year, according to the Census Bureau’s Community Survey. The Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics is still collecting data for those who left in 2013, but it estimates the numbers are about the same.
While Puerto Ricans have migrated to the United States for several generations, the number of departures from 2000-2010 marks the largest migration wave, at 300,000, since the 1950s, when close to a half-million migrated to the mainland during the entire decade.
So many residents have left the island over the years that there are a million more Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States (4.9 million as of 2011) than in Puerto Rico (3.7 million).
Why such a massive population shift in recent years? Mario Marazzi, executive director of the Puerto Rican Institute of Statistics, says it’s mainly because of the 2006 recession that is still punishing the island’s economy.
Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate is above 15%, more than double the 7.3% in the mainland, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Last month, Standard & Poor’s announced it had cut Puerto Rico’s credit rating to junk status as the U.S. commonwealth faces $70 billion in debt, including the debt from its utility companies.
In other words, if you thought Detroit was in trouble, Puerto Rico is much worse mainly for this reason: Unlike Detroit, the island cannot file for bankruptcy court protection. That option is only for municipalities and Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory.
In 2012, a majority rejected the current status and favored statehood as an alternative, hoping that might help alleviate the territory’s economic woes. But the vote was nonbinding and never went anywhere in Washington.
Puerto Rico’s education system spends close to $8,000 annually per student, according to the Department of Education. And while that’s not as high as the United States, which spends an average of $10,000 per student, it’s still a significant loss for Puerto Rico, particularly as it faces a major economic crisis.
Each college-educated Puerto Rican who establishes a career elsewhere is a big loss for the commonwealth, explained Puerto Rican political analyst Jay Fonseca in an interview with CNN en Español.
There’s even an active recruiting process by U.S.-based organizations, like police departments, nurse associations and hospitals, who come to Puerto Rico to search for future employees, Marazzi said.
“They not only recruit the best bilingual candidates but they help diversify the workforce in the United States, of course to their benefit,” said Marazzi.
It’s a seamless process considering all Puerto Ricans, whether born on the island territory or on the mainland, are American citizens.