Originally published by BYURadio.org here.
PUERTO RICANS FLOCKING TO MAINLAND U.S.
Not since the end of World War II have so many Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States in so short a period of time. The PewResearch Hispanic Trends Project looked at U.S. Census Bureau data and found “that 144,000 more people left the island for the mainland than the other way around from mid-2010 to 2013.” “This escalated loss of migrants fueled the island’s first sustained population decline in its history as a U.S. territory, even as the stateside Puerto Rican population grew briskly,” says the Pew report.
“As a small business it’s really tough on the island,” says Justin Velez-Hagan, executive director of the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce. “The unemployment rate is hovering at 15 percent – that doesn’t include the near 40 percent informal sector of the economy. So you’ve got a lot of people there with no employment options, especially young people.”
Velez-Hagan notes the education system in Puerto Rico provides virtually free education through college for most youth. “But they have no employment opportunities. It’s a brain drain – the best and the brightest Puerto Ricans coming up say, ‘Forget this,’ and come to the mainland.”
The only people staying on the island are those already established in their career or business that have strong trade exporting outside of Puerto Rico. Velez-Hagan says the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce is working to reverse the trend, sending mainland businesses to set up shop on the island, to take advantage of business and tax incentives.
“There is still prosperity and there are success stories on the island,” says Velez-Hagan.
Relationship between U.S. and Puerto Rico began in the 1800s, but the flow of immigrants to the mainland started in the 1920s as farmers in the Southwest were looking for labor. That movement didn’t work out – the Puerto Rican laborers tried to unionize and the Southwest farmers turned instead to Mexico, explains BYU History professor and Wheatley Institute fellow Evan Ward.
Today, Ward says the majority of Puerto Ricans live in the Northeast – and increasingly in Florida.
As a territory of the United States, Ward says Puerto Rico gets some financial support from the mainland, but governs itself. Puerto Ricans don’t pay federal U.S. taxes. Ward adds the standard of living on the island is lower than on the mainland, which has long fueled migration.
A century of migration to and from the mainland has led to a blending of cultures, says Ward. Demographically, the migration has caused something of a crisis, with low birthrates and an aging population in Puerto Rico.
Ward agrees with the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce that encouraging innovators and development to the island could reverse the declining fortunes of Puerto Rico. “Think of Dubai and how the political economy of crafting a state to attract development is possible, but it takes visionary leadership,” says Ward