Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Puerto Rican Population Declines on Island, Grows on U.S. Mainland

Chapter 1: Puerto Ricans on the U.S. Mainland

Among Puerto Ricans in States and D.C., Births on Mainland Drive Growth

The population of Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin on the U.S. mainland has more than doubled since 1980, rising to 4.9 million in 2012 from 2 million. The 2012 total alone was 45% higher than 2000’s 3.4 million. Still, the Puerto Rican origin population has grown less rapidly than U.S. Hispanics overall, whose numbers more than tripled from 1980 to 2012 and grew by half from 2000 to 2012.

Puerto Rican origin population growth has been powered mainly by an increase in those born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia, rather than by the increasing influx of migrants from the island. Mainland-born Puerto Ricans made up 69% of stateside Puerto Ricans in 2012, and their share has grown in recent years. This group has more than tripled in size since 1980 (1 million to 3.4 million), and grew 21% from 2007 to 2012.

On the other hand, the number of island-born Puerto Ricans on the mainland, 1.4 million in 2012, grew by only 51% from 1980 to 2012, and by 2% from 2007 to 2012. In 2012, island-born Puerto Ricans made up 29% of all stateside Puerto Ricans, down from about half in 1980.

There are notable differences in the characteristics of mainland-born and island-born Puerto Ricans living stateside. (See Appendix A tables for more details.) For example, the share of young, middle-aged and older people among all Puerto Ricans on the mainland and among other U.S. Hispanics is about the same. But there are notably fewer children and more elderly among island-born Puerto Ricans than among their mainland-born counterparts and other Hispanics.

In terms of language skills, Puerto Ricans (83%) are more likely than other U.S. mainland Hispanics (66%) to be proficient in English, meaning that they speak it very well or only speak English at home. The overall number is driven by high English proficiency among those born in the 50 states or District of Columbia (95%), compared with lower proficiency among the island born (60%).

Education and Economics

Education Levels of the Mainland Puerto Rican Origin Population, 1980 and 2012

Puerto Ricans overall have more education than other U.S. Hispanics, and those born on the mainland have higher education levels than those born on the island.

Among Puerto Ricans living in the 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia, a higher share of adults ages 25 and older has attended or graduated from college (48%) than is true for other U.S. Hispanics. A lower share has no more than a high school education (52% to 64% in 2012).

As with other characteristics explored in this report, there are differences in education levels between mainland-born and island-born Puerto Ricans who live stateside. Mainland-born Puerto Ricans are more likely to have at least some college experience (54% versus 39%) and less likely to have a high school diploma or less (46% versus 61%). Overall, 18% of mainland-born Puerto Ricans have a bachelor’s degree compared with 15% of island-born Puerto Ricans.

Economically, mainland Puerto Ricans overall are less well off than other Hispanics, with median household incomes in 2012 of $41,400, compared with $46,000 for other Latinos. Mainland-born Puerto Ricans actually have higher median household incomes than other Hispanics ($47,840 in 2012). By contrast, the median household incomes among island-born Puerto Ricans are lower, at $34,500 in 2012. Puerto Ricans overall have a lower homeownership rate (38%) than other Hispanics (47%), but there is little difference for Puerto Ricans by birthplace. The poverty rate of Puerto Ricans (27% in 2012) is slightly higher than for other U.S. Hispanics (25%). Overall poverty rates are similar for mainland-born and island-born Puerto Ricans.

Geographic Distribution

Half of Stateside Puerto Ricans Live in Northeast

Half of the nation’s Puerto Rican origin population lives in the Northeast (52% in 2012), 30% live in the South and the remainder is split between the Midwest and West.7

Puerto Ricans dominate the Hispanic population in some Northeast states. As a share of all Hispanics, Puerto Ricans are the majority origin group in Connecticut (54.8%) and Pennsylvania (54.1%). Puerto Ricans are the largest origin group (though not a majority) among all Hispanics in Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.8 They are the second largest origin group in Florida, after Cubans.

The local impact of these trends can be seen in a Pew Research analysis of data for the nation’s roughly 360 counties with at least a thousand Puerto Rican residents in 2010.

Only five counties out of those with at least a thousand Puerto Rican residents—all in the greater New York metropolitan area—experienced declines in their Puerto Rican populations from 2000 to 2010. Four—Bronx, Kings, New York and Queens counties—are in New York state, and the fifth was Hudson County, N.J. Of the five counties with sharpest growth in their Puerto Rican populations during this period, three are in the South—Union County, N.C.; Paulding County, Ga.; and Forsyth County, Ga. The others were Pinal County, Ariz., and Kendall County, Ill.

Puerto Rican Migration and Dispersion

Among Puerto Ricans, Half of all Recent Moves From the Island to the Mainland Were to the South …And Half of all Recent Moves by Puerto Ricans Across U.S. Regions Were to the South

The South was the top regional destination for recent moves by Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin from the island to the mainland, according to a Pew Research analysis of American Community Survey estimates for 2006 to 2012. Among all 334,000 moves during that period, 48% were to the South, including 31% to Florida, the state that attracted the largest share. New York, the next most popular state, accounted for 10% of recent moves off the island by Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin.9

Among all Puerto Ricans who relocated from one region to another from 2006 to 2012, the South again was the top regional destination. The South was the first-choice region for the majority of moves by Puerto Ricans leaving the Northeast (81%), Midwest (56%) and West (60%).

New York and Florida were the most likely destinations that Puerto Ricans moved to from other states. About one-in-five moves (20%) were to New York and one-in-seven (14%) to Florida. About three-in-ten (31%) moves to Florida were from New York, and about the same share (29%) was in the other direction. Texas, which some research (Garcia-Ellin, 2014) has pinpointed as a new destination state for Puerto Ricans, especially the mainland born, attracted movers from many states and accounted for 6% of moves during the 2006 to 2012 period. The highest share (21%) came from Florida, while 9% came from both New York and California.

  1. The U.S. Census Bureau defines the U.S. regions as 1) Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont; 2) Midwest: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin; 3) South: Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia; 4) West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.
  2. Maine, North Dakota and Vermont had sample sizes too small to provide reliable estimates.
  3. This section discusses moves, rather than people who moved; the six combined years of data likely include multiple moves by some people.
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