Centro Research Finds Dramatic Changes in Demographic and Socio-Economic Status of Puerto Ricans in U.S.


Over the last decade, with a combination of emigration and mainland U.S. births, the Puerto Rican population living in the United States outnumbers that on the island. There has been a concomitant change in population distribution, with Puerto Ricans dispersing across state lines. According to the new book of research, Puerto Ricans at the Dawn of the New Millennium, published by the Centro for Puerto Rican Studies (Centro) this profile is dramatically different from what it was at the turn of the century. 

The fast-growing Puerto Rican population in the South, West and Midwest is expected to outnumber Puerto Ricans in the Northeast. “When (not if) this event happens, it will mark a significant shift in the history of Puerto Ricans in the United States,” according to an essay in Puerto Ricans at the Dawn of the New Millennium, published by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Centro) at Hunter College. “The new millennium brings new realities for Puerto Ricans,” said Centro researcher Carlos Vargas-Ramos. The analysis is primarily the work of Centro researchers and it is edited by Centro Director Edwin Meléndez and Vargas-Ramos

 Researchers generally found a diverse Puerto Rican population in the United States with diverse experiences. “The Puerto Rican population is growing rapidly at a pace that is superior to the population in general and that extends throughout the country,” Vargas-Ramos said. The research, he said, shows, among other things, that the great changes is especially among Puerto Ricans born in the United States rather than on the island.

While many of New York’s migrants are largely leaving to Florida, they are also settling in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. In Central Florida, there is an even distribution of Puerto Ricans who were born in the United States and on the island.

The researchers also analyzed Puerto Rican migration from state to state. In the last decade, over a million stateside Puerto Ricans migrated across state lines, which researchers described as even “more stunning.” This pattern of migratory behavior is being fueled by the movement among those born in the United States and not by island born or recent migrants. Seven out of 10 Puerto Ricans moving to another state during the last decade were born in the United States.

The book also presents new research on social, economic, political and health conditions of the Puerto Rican population in the United States, and it highlights the improvements and the challenges in this rapidly changing and growing community.

The findings challenge the portrayal of Puerto Ricans as lacking socioeconomic advancement compared with other “immigrant” groups. They also find that dispersion may be contributing to better socioeconomic outcomes for stateside Puerto Ricans. Military service, for example, seems to be a factor contributing to this dispersion and offering a pathway for better socioeconomic advancement for Puerto Rican youth.

The recent migration wave from Puerto Rico to the United States is fueled by the collapse of the island’s economy as well as its inability to reduce crime and violence. In 2003, there were equal numbers of Puerto Ricans, 3.8 million, living in the United States and on the island. By 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 4.97 million Puerto Ricans living stateside and 3.52 million Puerto Ricans residing on the island, representing a population swing of nearly 1.5 million over nearly a decade. The migration wave rivals the magnitude of the Great Migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States during the 1950s.

If these patterns continue, according to Meléndez and Vargas-Ramos, it is likely that two-thirds of Puerto Ricans will live in this country by the end of the decade.

Articles cover a range of topics from issues impacting Puerto Rican migration including economics, education, jobs, military service, health and political and civic engagement.

No Brain Drain

Kurt Birson, an economics researcher at Centro, wrote an essay titled “Puerto Rican Migration in the 21st Century: Is There a Brain Drain?” His research finds there is no evidence of a brain drain on the island contrary to the popular discourse that the island is in a crisis because its youngest professionals who are leaving the island in droves for jobs and better opportunities in the United States. “Many are missing the point,” he said. Although emigrants did not constitute the island’s most educated or most skilled workers, Birson said migration flows have surely meant the loss of significant proportion of workers to the United States. “The concern should be that a lot of people (professional and not) are leaving the island and Puerto Rico is losing economic opportunities.”

Other essays include: “A Brief Look at Internal Migration of Puerto Ricans in the United States: 2001-2011” by Juan Carlos García-Ellín; “Patterns of Puerto Rican Settlement and Segregation in the United States, 1990-2010” and “Puerto Rican Political and Civic Engagement in the United States,” both by Vargas-Ramos; “Puerto Rican Economic Resiliency after the Great Depression” by Birson and Meléndez; “Rebuilding the Puerto Rican Education Pipleline for a Multilingual and Multicultural Future” by Luis O. Reyes; “School, Work and the Transition of Puerto Rican Youth to Adulthood” by Meléndez, Anne Visser and Birson; “The Asset Profile of Puerto Ricans and Other Latinos after the Great Recession: 2008-2010” by Birson, Ramon Borges and Kofi Ampaabeng; “The Well-being of Puerto Rican Veterans and Service Members and Their Place within the Diaspora” by Harry Franqui-Rivera; “Lessons from the European Demographic Winter for Puerto Rico” by Alejandro Macarrón Larumbe; “Asthma and Diabetes within the Puerto Rican Population” by Anna Rosofsky and Judith Aponte.

The book can be purchased online at the Centro Store (http://www.centropr-store.com/puerto-ricans-at-the-dawn-of-the-new-millennium/).

To learn more about Centro’s research visit http://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/research/general/research.