October 14, 2015

Puerto Ricans leave in record numbers for mainland U.S.

Puerto Rico’s nearly decade-long economic recession has led to people leaving the island for the mainland in numbers not seen in more than 50 years, new Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data has found.

More People Are Leaving Puerto Rico for MainlandLast year, 84,000 people left Puerto Rico for the U.S. mainland, a 38% increase from 2010, according to the analysis of American Community Survey data. At the same time, the number of people moving to Puerto Rico from the U.S. mainland declined, resulting in Puerto Rico having a net population loss to the mainland of 64,000 in 2014, more than double the net loss of 26,000 in 2010.

The island’s declining population is not a new trend. Indeed, Puerto Rico has been experiencing a net population loss since at least 2005, a year before its recession began. However, the trend has been accelerating since 2010 as the U.S. mainland’s economy has rebounded from the Great Recession even as the island’s economy has remained mired in a recession. More recently, the Puerto Rican government has seen its tax revenues decline and, barred by U.S. law from filing for bankruptcy, it may run out of cash in November. The continued loss of people, particularly school-aged children and those in their prime working age, has only worsened the island’s economic situation and outlook.

Puerto Rico's Losses AcceleratePublic opinion surveys show Puerto Ricans are not confident in their economy’s future. A Gallup poll conducted in December found that just 6% of Puerto Rican residents thought economic conditions on the island were getting better, a far lower share than the 41% of adults in U.S. states who said the same about the country as a whole. Among Latin American countries, only Venezuela (7%) rivaled Puerto Rico in economic pessimism. A Pew Research Center survey of Latin American countries conducted in 2013-14 found that in Puerto Rico, 89% were dissatisfied with the way things were going on the island.

As of 2013, there were more Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. mainland (5.1 million) than on the island itself (3.5 million). This is a result of not just outmigration from the island but also declining fertility rates – the average woman in Puerto Rico was estimated to have 1.3 children during her lifetime in 2013, down from 1.9 in 2005.

The island’s population isn’t expected to rebound anytime soon. The Census Bureau projects the population of Puerto Rico will continue to shrink, falling to 3 million by 2050.

Topics: Immigration, Latin America, Demographics, Immigration Trends, Population Trends, Population Geography, Migration, Hispanic/Latino Demographics

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

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


  1. John Turner1 year ago

    Instead of making P.R. more American, the increased use of English in the school systems has fueled the exodus.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Dear John
      The reality is that people has always learn English since primary grades. The language has nothing to do with the exodus. It is simply survival. As a responsible parent you have to look for the best options for your family. Many jobs were lost in the 1990’s and the situation got worst after the recession. I don’t have an idea how to change the situation and sadly I don’t think the political leader either.

  2. Isol Fernández1 year ago

    I’m part of the so called “diaspora” and I am writing about my experience here diasporicanlife.com Thank you for this article I needed this information.

  3. Felipe Manteiga2 years ago

    Fertility replacement rate, calculated at 2.2 for advanced societies, (they might be poor but modern) Cuba and Puerto Rico are facing a rapid population contraction with lifetime fertility hovering at 1.3/1.4. Both geographic spaces also have become major population rejection poles, sending as many people as possible to the U.S. In other words, these will become, demographically, empty spaces.

    A neighboring country, Haiti, faces the opposite trend: high population rates and major hurdles on emigration to the U.S. or to the Dominican Republic (although the latter has highly porous arrangements). Are we at the threshold of a new Haitian Empire, harking back to the early 19th Century? Is Haiti’s population tsunami destined to flood these two empty spaces?

  4. Jorge Ayala2 years ago

    Puerto Ricans use United States passports, live in a territory of the United States and are under the jurisdiction of the USA. … Why bother to report on Americans leaving an American territory for the mainland? It’s totally legal.

    1. Ivan Velazquez2 years ago

      No one was questioning the legality of it- It’s the same as reporting on Americans moving from certain states like Ohio and Pennsylvania to other states during the recession in 2008. It’s merely highlighting the worsening economic conditions and prevailing pessimism in Puerto Rico, hopefully to bring attention to the issue.

  5. Reality2 years ago

    -lack of job growth
    -no natural resources
    -increase in violent crimes
    -a drug trade haven
    -two political parties filled with corruption
    -a medical and health care system that lacks innovation
    -AIDS on the rise
    -tax evasion galore with little change in site
    -Zero island infrastructure reinvestment
    -72 billion in public debt
    -another 13 billion in unfunded pension liability
    -rampant massive denial within population
    Puerto Rico, plain said……there’s no wonder people have left and will continue to leave.

  6. Louis Allen2 years ago

    Nothing in this otherwise good article, and NONE (so far) of the “posters” responding, have mentioned ANYTHING about the CAUSES of the problems and the situation/circumstances that have caused this enormous migration to the mainland:

    1) The practice (since the 1970’s) by our INEPT government administrations (all of them, after Gov. Ferre’s ONE term) of overcoming the very wise constitutional (PR Constitution, mind you, because the Federal Constitution lacks such a sage requirement) disposition to the effect that our yearly government budget has to be balanced (DUH !!). Every administration has overcome this “inconvenient” requirement by “balancing” (“cuadrando”) their budget with DEBT, that until 2 years ago, was literally “gobbled up” by the bond market and by the hedge funds (now derisively called “vulture funds” by an inept administration, by a yellow and ever more leftist local press, and by an ever more ignorant/naive electorate).
    2) This unwise (what an understatement !) practice of “kicking the can down the street” was BLINDLY followed by each and every administration, including the Fortuño administration (2009-2013).
    3) In 2013, when the bond rating firms started (at long last !) to examine and question this practice, the reaction from our CHILDLISH and irresponsible Gov. Garcia Padilla was: “Me vale!!” (literally, “who cares !”). Our dense governor even challenged the rating agencies by claiming that they should run as candidates in the 2016 elections if they wanted to try their hand at governing Puerto Rico. Utter, unadulterated, childish ignorance.
    Needless to say, it was and has been downhill from then on.
    4) The result of these “kick-the-can” practices, predictably enough, has been the downgrading of any and all Puerto Rican bonds to junk grade, literally.
    5) Our present administration is now reneging on a CONSTITUTIONALLY ENSHRINED obligation to repay government bonds,
    a) while claiming that the very same hedge funds that lent money to, and trusted Puerto Rico, are now “corrupt, greedy vulture funds” (“fondos buitres”). This with the full cooperation of our corrupt press;
    b) while (conveniently) ignoring the fact that these newfound “villains” own only 40 % of these debt instruments while Puerto Rican bondholders, Puerto Rican “Cooperativas”, and Puerto Rican retirees own (and were COUNTING on) the remaining 60 %.
    c) while, as stated above, intentionally disregarding the fact that most of these debt issues are constitutionally protected. The present government administration has completely disregarded this fact (and nobody even mentions the possibility that the Governor can very well be impeached for not heeding a Constitutional mandate).
    6) All these unwise (again, understatement !) and INEPT practices were “informed” (fed) to an economically and politically UNSOPHISTICATED electorate by a leftist, self-serving and completely biased Puerto Rican mainstream media, which media never dared contradict (much less oppose !) the “status quo” that was leading Puerto Rico to the slaughterhouse.
    7) The present government administration has absolutely refused to shrink the size (and, of course, COST !) of our government behemoth. On the contrary, this administration has become the best proof that “common sense” is the least common of the senses. Witness how, among many other mindless actions, they have instituted a new “board”, accountable by law to no one (including an independent prosecutor, “Fiscal Especial Independiente”), that has been charged, among other inane “missions”, with (you are not going to believe this !) requiring government agencies to not spend over their assigned budget !! As if we needed a new government board to force agencies to comply with the law and with Executive Orders !!
    8) At the same time all this has been going on, the present administration has not found a new tax, no matter how confiscatory, that they do not like. Puerto Rico, the poorest “state” (way poorer than Mississippi), has the HIGHEST sales tax (11.5 %) of all the states, alongside ever-increasing and ever more confiscatory income taxes and business taxes.
    Is anybody surprised now about the fact that Puerto Rico is being deserted by so many productive and smart people?

  7. KB2 years ago

    Interesting article, but the comparison to Venezuela and Latin countries could give readers the impression that PR residents are not US citizens. Please reconsider grouping this article with your immigration categories as they are in the “Topics” section above. This article should not be mixed with articles pertaining to Immigration, Immigration Trends and Latin America (in my opinion).

    Puerto Ricans are no different than Virginians, etc. under the US constitution and should not be lumped together with Mexicans, Brazilians, or other Latin Americans just because they’re first language is Spanish. Thanks.

  8. Brewster2 years ago

    I love PR — especially Vieques. So, please, what are the fixes? How can the population loss be turned around?

  9. Steve2 years ago

    What about Americans going there to retire?

    1. JSWilson2 years ago

      That is a good question that I have been pondering. I am at a loss to understand why people would go to Florida to retire when they can go to Puerto Rico. The people are extremely friendly here. They bend over backwards to help. If you don’t speak Spanish and have no interest in learning, they don’t try to make you feel bad. They are less structured and less efficient than on the continent which will freak some people out. But for me that is just fine. If I don’t like the way things work, I ask them to change the process for me. Try telling the power company in California that their policies won’t work for you. If you are not dependent on Puerto Rico for your income this is a great place to be. I don’t know about San Juan, as I have not had much reason to go there. I hear it is not as nice as the west side but I don’t know for sure. Rincon and Cabo Rojo are good places to start looking if you want to retire here.

  10. JSWilson2 years ago

    Puerto Rico needs to come to grips with the fact that they can never become their own country. Even if they could would they want to be like the Philippines, they got their independence from the USA. Look how much good that did them? Being a US Territory is not working for Puerto Rico. They need to become a state. Look at Hawaii. What has Hawaii got that Puerto Rico does not have?

    1. Erik Mojica2 years ago

      Hawaii had the votes and the location.

      Puerto Rico is no longer of much geopolitical importance. Another thing to consider is that Puerto Rico can request to become a state but that needs to ratified or accepted through congressional action. Even with the current attrition rate, Puerto Rico’s population would leap frog a number of states in congressional representation were it to ever become a state.

      Then there is the culture barrier. Puerto Rico, while being tied at the hip with the US for well over 100 years, is still very “Spanish” in both culture, language (of course) and even laws. Besides, we are a very proud people and full acceptance of our US identity is off-putting to some.

      Beyond that, if Puerto Rico were to become a state, what happens to Guam and then American Samoa and other commonwealths, territories, etc.?

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        On thing fueling the exodus not considered here is the increased use of English in the school system. This has made it much easier for those now finishing their education to find employment in the states.

    2. Ruben2 years ago

      Hawaii is half way to the Pacific Rim. Just like in real state: “Location, location, location”. New and farther reaching military hardware made Ramay Air Force Base obsolete. We can get “there”, in a hurry from Missouri.

  11. Dr sairy2 years ago

    We love our island- as you know- beautiful beaches, great weather- super nice people- partying everywhere—- however, we are getting poor and poor by the minute— people lost all their savings and are living day to day— young people are getting no where — there is no hope— so with severe sacrifrices , they leave.

  12. Angel2 years ago

    I was one of them, I left Puerto Rico on 2005 due to Bad Economy, I now live in Jacksonville Florida and I’m very happy I made this change. Thank God I’m Bilingual this has really help me to find Jobs. I don’t regret ones moving to the Main Land.

    1. Packard Day2 years ago


      Welcome to America and good luck in the coming years. We’re glad you came.

      1. Erik Mojica2 years ago

        Packard, Puerto Rico is part of America. The better expression is welcome to the mainland.

      2. Noel Prez2 years ago

        PR is America.

        1. Anonymous1 year ago

          Puerto Rico is a victim of its own greed.
          The voters in the island voting for a political party not taking into cosidetation if a politician would be good fir thepoeple. I believe the voters are are blind and are just as greedy as the politician only voting or a politician for the only reasin being how much can get good old boys mentally. This is why Puerto Rico is in a 72 billion dollar debt
          and the ability
          of the goverment providing esential
          services are in danger of being hindered.
          God help Puerto Rico!