Puerto Rican Immigration Trends Reflect Territory’s Decline

Puerto RicoAs poverty on the island of Puerto Rico seems to only intensify with each passing year, the number of immigrants leaving the island to live in the continental U.S. continues to climb. More than 144,000 people left the island for the mainland than the other way around from mid-2010 to 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. And analysis from the Pew Research Center study reports “economic opportunity” is the most common reason for Puerto Ricans moving to the mainland.

Puerto Rico is a part of the United States and therefore its residents are able to freely move from the territory to any of the states on the mainland without first obtaining permanent residency.

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,” according to the Pew study.

Pew reports “substantial differences” in the life circumstance of Puerto Ricans born on the mainland as compared to those born on the island. Mainland-born demographics reflect a younger profile with higher household incomes than the island-born demographic. A college education is also more likely for those born on the mainland.

For those born on the island, trends reflect immigrants who are poorer than their predecessors. The population is also characterized by lower household incomes and a greater likelihood of living in poverty.

Interestingly, the population of Puerto Ricans living stateside has diversified in terms of geographic concentrations. Whereas 74 percent of Puerto Ricans lived in the Northeast region of the country in 1980, the rate dropped to 52 percent who lived in the region in 2012. The rate of growth for the Puerto Rican immigrant population in other areas of the country has been rapid. Especially in the South, Pews notes, the rate is on a particularly fast clip. Less than 10 percent of the Puerto Rican population on the mainland resided in the South in 1980. Now the region is home to around 30 percent of the population.

The number of island-born Puerto Ricans living stateside has ticked up to 1.4 million in 2012, up from 1.3 million in 2000. The number of stateside Puerto Ricans reached a record 4.9 million in 2012. Since 2006, stateside Puerto Ricans have exceed the number of those on the island.