In 2003, there were about 3.8 million people living in Puerto Rico, and about the same number of people of Puerto Rican heritage living on the U.S. mainland. That has changed significantly. Now there are over 5 million on the mainland and only about 3.5 million in Puerto Rico.
It’s a natural outgrowth of the continued problems on the Island. Unemployment is high, water and electricity are unpredictable thanks to the economic crisis (and in the case of water, a severe drought), medical care is uncertain, and Puerto Rico’s access to federal benefits is not equal to that of the States. While many of these problems can be solved by statehood, people in Puerto Rico can live in a State for the price of a plane ticket, and many are making that choice.
New Census figures, according to the Orlando Times, show that some 7,500 people moved from Puerto Rico to Orlando in 2013, the most recent year for which data has been released. Another 6,800 moved to New York.
A recent USA Today article profiles some of the newcomers, and also warns that the influx is making jobs harder to get. “I’m not scared, because I know we will benefit from the talent that a lot of them bring,” City Commissioner Tony Ortiz is quoted as saying, “But I’ve seen so many people return to Puerto Rico in a more desperate situation than what they left. It gives me a huge pain in my heart.”
One of the many who have moved from Puerto Rico to Orlando says it’s worth it. “The ship was already sinking. … We decided to abandon it,” the USA Today article reports one new resident as saying. Orlando is “a lot better than it was over on the island. It’s a better situation economically and with lifestyle. Over there you make too little money to pay too much in taxes and bills.”
The new data from the U.S. Census confirms that more people are leaving Puerto Rico than are arriving on the Island. Is this the solution? Should Puerto Rico continue to accept inaction from Congress and from the government of Puerto Rico? We say no. Contact your legislators and let them know that it is time for Puerto Rico to gain statehood. Tell the political candidates that Puerto Rico matters to you and it should matter to them as well.