July 1, 2015

Puerto Rico’s losses are not just economic, but in people, too

Puerto Rico is not just dealing with an economic crisis. In a trend that is both a consequence of and contributor to its financial woes, the island’s population is also declining at a clip not seen in more than 60 years.

Puerto Rican Population Grows on U.S. Mainland, Declines on IslandIt’s not a new problem: Puerto Rico’s population began declining in 2006 and has continued every year through 2013, while the population of Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland has grown, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.

But the island’s population decline has accelerated in recent years. Over a two-year period between 2011 and 2013, Puerto Rico’s net population decreased by 50,000 people annually. Job-related reasons were cited by 42% of those leaving.

According to a new report commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, not only has the island’s population decline been a drag on its economy, but it will hinder the commonwealth’s ability to recover. If people can’t find jobs at home, they move elsewhere in search of work. And fewer workers means less productive capacity and lower consumer demand down the road.

More People are Leaving Puerto Rico for Mainland U.S. than ArrivingThe population decline has included young people. Enrollment in Puerto Rico’s elementary schools and high schools has declined 40% over the past decade, the report said.

“Structural problems, economic shocks and weak public finances have yielded a decade of stagnation, outmigration and debt,” the report said. “Even if there is no intensification in economic problems, which is a big if, the [Puerto Rico] Planning Board projects that the population will continue to fall through 2020.”

The island’s economy, as measured by real gross national product, has declined in tandem with its population. It shrank in seven of the past eight years, and is now 13% smaller than it was in fiscal 2006, according to data from the Government Development Bank.

Unemployment stood at 12.4% in May, more than twice the national jobless rate; the share of the population either working or looking for work has sunk to 39.6%, from 48.1% in July 2006. (By comparison, the U.S. labor force participation rate was 62.9% in May.)

Puerto Rico's Fertility Rate DeclinesIn terms of population, the downward trend looks like it won’t be turning around anytime soon. The latest projections from the U.S. Census Bureau show the island’s population will continue to shrink, from 3.6 million today down to 3 million in 2050.

Another driver of the island’s population loss is falling fertility. In 2013, the average woman in Puerto Rico was estimated to have 1.3 children during her lifetime, a measure called the total fertility rate. A decade ago, the fertility rate was 1.9. Historically, fertility has dropped during economic recessions.

By comparison, women born in Puerto Rico who move to the U.S. mainland have more babies than those who stay on the island. In 2013, the average total fertility rate was 2.1 for Puerto Rican-born women living in the U.S.

Topics: Immigration Trends, Population Trends, Economic Recession, U.S. Census, Hispanic/Latino Demographics

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.

  3. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Dr Dave2 years ago

    Puerto Rico has been overpopulated for years. Another loss of a million more or so will make it habitable and a destination. Keep on losing people PR! It will only benefit your health and welfare and wellbeing.

  2. Deethorn2 years ago

    Nice to see that socialism and big government welfare for all programs really don’t work. What a nice example of reality!

  3. Fedjk Cabce2 years ago

    the problem with Puerto Rico is the greediness, ineptitude, corruption, buddying and stupidity of its political class that has been going on for decades…..now that same behavior has caused a cultural degradation that just can’t be reverse unless change starts with its leaders and political class……Puert Rico is no longer the same type of culture it was in the 60’s and 70’s…..where people work hard to make ends meet…..and politicians work for the people….now politicians work for their selfish selfs and their friends and clonies…..just look at the water and electrical authority…..most of the employes are political appointees or got the jobs because they new a string political leader…..or someone with political influence recommend them…..now Puerto Ricans need to find a solution on their own……UNCLE SAM got tired and reached the end of the barrels…….GOOD LUCK ISLA DEL ENCANTO

  4. Sam2 years ago

    At least they are being responsible by not having children they know they can’t afford. After years of waiting for promised jobs from politicians, and surviving on welfare programs many are moving to the mainland seeking a better future for the next generation. Can’t blame them for it. I live in the mainland and my job and better economic opportunities have taken me to five different states. Nobody criticized me for moving around for jobs and nobody called me an immigrant.

  5. Barbara Griffith2 years ago

    I think the island would have been smarter if the government had simply asked for was given statehood.
    If the their government had allowed statehood to be given to them a lot of their problems would never have happened in the first place. They would have been legally part of the US and could have asked for help with their finances before the bottom fell out like Greece.

    1. Hamilton Mencher2 years ago

      Ask yourself why Puerto Ricans could not accept politicians who worked FOR the people and why those hard working people changed. There’s no logical explanation.
      Barbara “Islands cannot be “Smart”
      What you infer is that Puerto Ricans cannot understand or fear- Democracy.
      Lincoln defined democracy as govt BY the people,FOR the people and OF the people. ONLY IF the people are IRRESPONSIBLE will it fail.
      Politicians make up the Dirty Foam that appers on the surface of a sea of Irresponsible citizens in any “Democracy”

    2. Islander2 years ago

      Please check history before talking about something you do not understand. Puerto Rico cannot obtain statehood because the US Congress will not offer it. That has been made clear repeatedly by Congress when plans for referendums were presented. Congress would allow the referendum to take place but they would not commit to extending statehood even if Puerto Ricans voted for it.

      And Puerto Rico is legally part of the US, though in a separate category other than a federated state. And the island’s government has repeatedly asked for assistance from the US but the Congress will not allow the island to even claim bankruptcy to get their house in order.

  6. Byron Mitchell2 years ago

    We have been overpopulated for the past 25 years, now people are leaving to find jobs in the states. Once another million or so leaves we will again enjoy growth.

  7. GDT2 years ago

    As far as population growth is concerned, the incentive to have children at home on the island doesn’t exists, where as having them on the main land does.

  8. Edward Ayres2 years ago

    Such a beautiful island with a unique and rich culture. I vacationed there once and loved it. Hope they can get their economy going again.