Puerto Rican Population Declines on Island, Grows on U.S. Mainland (2022)

Puerto Ricans have left the financially troubled island for the U.S. mainland this decade in their largest numbers since the Great Migration after World War II, citing job-related reasons above all others.

U.S. Census Bureau data show that 144,000 more people left the island for the mainland than the other way around from mid-2010 to 2013, a larger gap between emigrants and migrants than during the entire decades of the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. This escalated loss of 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.

The search for economic opportunity is the most commonly given explanation for moving by island-born Puerto Ricans who relocated to the mainland from 2006 to 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.1 A plurality (42%) gave job-related reasons for moving stateside, compared with 38% who gave family-related reasons. Among all immigrants from foreign countries who migrated over the same time period, a similar share gave job-related reasons (41%), while 29% said they migrated for family reasons. Mexican-b0rn immigrants were even more likely to cite job-related reasons (62%), while 25% cited family reasons.

Puerto Ricans who arrived from the island since 2000 are different from earlier waves of Puerto Rican migrants. For example, recent migrants are less likely than earlier migrants were to settle in traditional Northeast communities and more likely to live in the South, especially in Florida. More recent Puerto Rican arrivals from the island are also less well off than earlier migrants, with lower household incomes and a greater likelihood of living in poverty.

Most migrants from the island were born there. But among the recent migration wave, the departures of mainland-born Puerto Ricans have played a disproportionate role in the island’s population loss. Overall, mainland-born Puerto Ricans make up 4% of Puerto Ricans on the island, yet from 2000 to 2012, fully a third of the net loss of Hispanic Puerto Ricans on the island was due to departures of mainland-born Puerto Ricans.

The departures of island-born Puerto Ricans have contributed to an uptick in the number of island-born Puerto Ricans living stateside, to 1.4 million in 2012, up from 1.3 million in 2000. The island born, however, are a smaller group than the faster-growing mainland-born Puerto Ricans, who numbered 3.4 million in 2012, up from 2 million in 2000.2

As the island population has dwindled and the mainland population has grown, the number of stateside Puerto Ricans reached a record 4.9 million in 2012, and since at least 2006 has exceeded the number of Puerto Ricans on the island (3.5 million in 2012). Meanwhile, the overall population in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, including both Hispanics and non-Hispanics, declined to 3.6 million in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.3

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Puerto Ricans on the U.S. Mainland

On the mainland, Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic origin group (Brown and Patten, 2014), following Mexicans (34 million in 2012) and ahead of Cubans (2 million) and Salvadorans (2 million). Compared with other U.S. Hispanics, Puerto Ricans overall are somewhat worse off on several indicators of well-being. They have lower median household incomes and a lower homeownership rate, and are more likely to be poor. However, Puerto Ricans overall (especially those born on the mainland) have higher education levels than other U.S. Hispanics.

The overall numbers for the U.S. Puerto Rican population, though, mask substantial differences in the growth and demographic profiles of those born on the mainland versus those born on the island. The growth in the stateside Puerto Rican population has been driven mainly by mainland-born Puerto Ricans, whose numbers rose 67% from 2000 to 2012, compared with 11% for island-born Puerto Ricans during that period.

Mainland-born Puerto Ricans are younger and have higher household incomes, and their children or elderly are less likely to be in poverty. They are more likely to have attended college than their island-born counterparts.

The stateside Puerto Rican origin population once was very highly concentrated in the Northeast, especially New York, but now is more widely dispersed. About half (52%) of Puerto Ricans lived in the Northeast in 2012, compared with three-quarters (74%) who did so in 1980. The population in other regions of the U.S. has grown more rapidly—most notably in the South, which housed less than 10% of the Puerto Rican population in 1980 and now is home to 30%.

Puerto Ricans born on the mainland and island are about equally likely to live in the Northeast, but island-born Puerto Ricans are more likely to live in the South (37% did in 2012, compared with 27% of mainland-born Puerto Ricans.). Mainland-born Puerto Ricans are somewhat more likely to live in the West (10% to 4%). Similar shares of each group live in the Midwest (10% of the mainland born and 8% of the island born).

The South—particularly Florida—has been the top regional destination in recent years for Puerto Ricans moving from the island to the mainland and for Puerto Ricans relocating from other regions within the U.S. However, New York has been the single biggest state magnet for migrants: According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, among Puerto Ricans between 2006-2012, 31% of moves from the island to the mainland and 20% of moves from one state to another state were to the Empire State.

Puerto Ricans on the Island

As U.S. citizens, people born in Puerto Rico can move to the 50 states or District of Columbia without restrictions, and there is a long Puerto Rican tradition of back-and-forth migration between the island and mainland.

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However, the gap between the number of departures and arrivals has widened in recent years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data that indicate a growing net loss of migrants. That loss, as well as the island’s relatively low birth rate, has produced its recent population decline.

The island’s total population (including Hispanics and non-Hispanics) decreased by about 200,000 people from 2000 to 2013, with about two-thirds of Puerto Rican municipalities having lost population during those years (see maps). The Census Bureau projects the island’s population loss will continue gradually through at least 2050, when about 3 million people will live there.4

About a third of all people born on Puerto Rico—34% in 2013, according to data from the United Nations and U.S. Census Bureau—now live on the mainland.5 That share has increased since 1990, when it was 30%. By another estimate, the proportion of people ages 16 and older born in Puerto Rico who live on the U.S. mainland rose to 34% in 2011 compared with 30.1% in 2006 (Mora, Davila and Rodriguez, 2014).

Historic and Recent Population Patterns

Measuring Migration from Puerto Rico to the Mainland

One challenge in comparing current migration from Puerto Rico with that of the great migration wave of the 1950s and 1960s is a shortage of reliable data. In previous decades, estimates were made mainly using figures for airline passenger traffic between the island and mainland. However, U.S. Census Bureau researchers have concluded that this method produced estimates that were too high (Christenson, 2001).

Using passenger-traffic data, the Census Bureau had estimated that from 1980 to 1990, 288,163 more people left Puerto Rico for the mainland than arrived from there. Using a new method based on data from the Census Bureau and Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Department of Homeland Security), the bureau in 2001 lowered that estimate to 126,465. The bureau also estimated that from 1990 to 2000, the island lost 111,336 more people to the mainland than it gained. For 2000 to 2010, the bureau estimated Puerto Rico had a net loss of 192,000 people younger than 65 (Bhaskar et al, 2013). More recent Census Bureau estimates put the net loss for all age groups at 144,000 for 2010 to 2013.

Migration from the island was relatively low during the 1970s; even using the passenger-traffic method, it was less than 27,000 (Duany, 2003). Therefore, recent migration from the island is the highest since at least the 1960s.

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Puerto Rico’s recent population downturn reverses a general pattern of growth on the island since at least the 1700s, as documented by Spanish and U.S. Census Bureau data. The United States won control of Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898; the first U.S. census taken there, in 1910, counted more than 1.1 million residents. By 1990, the population had more than tripled, to 3.5 million, and peaked at 4 million in 2009. But by 2013, the island’s population had diminished to 3.6 million.6

The years since 2000 have seen the largest wave of migration from Puerto Rico since the “Great Migration” in the 1950s and 1960s (Rodríguez Ayuso, Santana and Santiago, 2013; see text box). According to Census Bureau researchers, the island had a net loss to the mainland of 192,000 migrants younger than 65 for the years from the 2000 census to the 2010 census (Bhaskar et al, 2013). From July 2010 to July 2013, about 144,000 more people of all ages left the island for the mainland than the other way around, according to Census Bureau population estimates. (Most but not all were Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin.)

The Island’s Economic Crisis

The onset of an economic crisis in 2006 that weakened the already-listless Puerto Rican economy likely played a role in the island’s accelerated population decline. More recent migrants to the mainland have been found to be less educated than those who remain on the island and more likely to hold less skilled jobs (Mora, Davila and Rodriguez, 2014).

About The Term “Puerto Rican”

When the term “Puerto Ricans” is used in this report, it usually means people who self-identify as Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin; most statistics and analysis included here are about this group. Sometimes, “Puerto Ricans” is used to refer to the total population of the island of Puerto Rico, in which case that is clearly stated. However, the two groups are quite similar. As of 2012, Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin made up 96% of the population of the island of Puerto Rico.

Some Census Bureau statistics about the island used in this report are only available for the total population, and not specifically for Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin. They include the 2013 population (not yet released for Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin at the time this report was published), as well as net migration statistics (departures from the island minus arrivals). In addition, counts for Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin on the island are not available before 2000 because the Hispanic-origin question was not asked on the island census until then.

According to a 2012 report on the Puerto Rican economy by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, “Puerto Rico’s economic progress has stalled: the Island has been operating below its potential for some time and the competitiveness of the economy continues to deteriorate.” The report cited persistently high unemployment and a low labor force participation rate, as well as heavy reliance on transfer payments such as food stamps (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2012).

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The island’s recent economic crisis was fueled both by the overall U.S. recession and factors unique to the island. These included an end to longstanding Puerto Rican government corporate tax breaks in 2006, which led to business shutdowns and public- and private-sector layoffs. More recently, the three major ratings agencies downgraded Puerto Rico’s debt to junk status this year, citing its long history of economic weakness (New York Times, 2014). The island’s debt burden began to grow after government expenses began outstripping revenues in the late 1990s (Federal Reserve, 2012).

Still, the 2012 Federal Reserve Bank of New York report also pointed to strengths in the island’s economy, such as improving levels of schooling and a bilingual workforce. The island also benefits from ties to the U.S. and the easy access of island residents to the mainland.

This report mainly analyzes the demographic and economic characteristics of Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin living in the 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia, including comparisons of those born on the mainland and island, as well as characteristics of Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin living in Puerto Rico. It compares these various groups with each other and with other U.S. Hispanics. In addition, the report examines characteristics of recent migrants from Puerto Rico to the mainland and compares them with earlier migrants. Demographic analysis is based mainly on tabulations from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey and the 2012 Puerto Rico Community Survey.

About This Report

This report explores the demographic and economic characteristics of Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin, both on the island of Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland. It also analyzes characteristics of recent migrants from the island to the mainland and compares them with those of previous waves of migrants. The data in this report come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Puerto Rican Community Survey, Current Population Survey, decennial censuses and annual population estimates.

This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals on the staff of the Pew Research Center. Editorial guidance came from Director of Hispanic Research Mark Hugo Lopez. D’Vera Cohn, senior writer, wrote the report’s overview and demographic chapters, based mainly on analysis by Eileen Patten, research analyst, who also prepared most of its charts and tables. Danielle Cuddington, research assistant, assembled data for the Puerto Rico maps that are in this report and online. The authors thank Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer, for his expertise on data use. The authors also thank Edwin Melendez of Hunter College and participants at the American Society of Hispanic Economists’ session “The Puerto Rican Economy, Migration and Employment Outcomes” at the 2014 Western Economic Association conference for comments on a previous version of the report. Anna Brown, research assistant, number-checked the report and charts; Molly Rohal, communications associate, copy-edited the report. Find related reports from the Pew Research Center online at pewresearch.org/hispanic.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report.

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“Puerto Rican,” unless otherwise specified, refers to those who self-identify as Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin, either because they were born in Puerto Rico or trace their family ancestry there.

“U.S. mainland” or “mainland” or “stateside” refer to the 50 states (including Alaska and Hawaii) and the District of Columbia. “Island” refers to Puerto Rico.

FAQs

Why is Puerto Rican population decreasing? ›

Puerto Rico's population has been falling for nearly a decade, and the pace of decline has accelerated in recent years. Although a slowdown in the island's birthrate has contributed to this decline, a surge in the out-migration of its citizens has been a more important factor.

Why did many Puerto Ricans move to the mainland? ›

The large migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States took place after 1945 as a result of economic changes having to do with the transformation of the Island's economy from a monocultural plantation economy into a platform for export-production in factories.

How many Puerto Ricans live on the mainland US? ›

The 4.2 million Puerto Ricans living in the mainland U.S. have come to surpass those on the island of Puerto Rico, which until this decade had the majority of the Puerto Rican population.

How did the United States come to control the island of Puerto Rico? ›

They reached their goal in 1897; however, a year later, Spain ceded the island to the United States under the provisions of the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War. In 1917, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory and its people became U.S. citizens.

What US city has the largest Puerto Rican population? ›

New York. New York City has the largest population of Puerto Ricans in the country outside Puerto Rico itself, followed by Philadelphia.

How many Puerto Ricans have left the island? ›

In the wake of that hurricane, more than 123,000 Puerto Ricans permanently relocated to U.S. states, especially New York and Florida, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Why does NYC have so many Puerto Ricans? ›

Puerto Ricans have been emigrating to New York City since the middle of the 19th century, in the first so-called “wave.” At the time, the island was still a Spanish province, and the motivation to move was the same as it was for other immigrants—America offered the greatest opportunities for economic success.

Can Puerto Ricans move to the mainland? ›

As citizens, the people of Puerto Rico can move throughout the 50 states just as any other Americans can—legally, this is considered internal migration, not immigration.

Why do so many Puerto Ricans go to New York? ›

Many Puerto Rican families migrated to the United States, the bulk of whom went to New York, in search of a better way of life. In New York, they faced the same hardships and discrimination that earlier groups of immigrants, such as the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews, had faced before them.

Why does the US want Puerto Rico? ›

The strategic value of Puerto Rico for the United States at the end of the nineteenth century centered in economic and military interests. The island's value to US policy makers was as an outlet for excess manufactured goods, as well as a key naval station in the Caribbean.

Do Puerto Ricans want to become a state? ›

Of the fifty-four percent (54.0%) who voted "No" on maintaining the status quo, 61.11% chose statehood, 33.34% chose free association, and 5.55% chose independence. Opponents of statehood argued that these results did not show that a majority of Puerto Rican voters support statehood.

Why does US own Puerto Rico? ›

On July 25, 1898, U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico and occupied it during the months of the Spanish-American War. When the Treaty of Paris was signed in December, ending the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States.

What US state has the most Puerto Ricans? ›

The principal state of residence for Puerto Ricans is New York, which has over one million Puerto Ricans, followed by New Jersey and Florida.

Where do most Puerto Rican live in the USA? ›

Approximately 90 percent of the Puerto Rican population in the United States lives in 30 cities, most of them in the eastern states along the Atlantic seaboard. The city with the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans is New York, followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark and Hartford.

What is a female Puerto Rican called? ›

Use la boricua when referring to a female of Puerto Rican descent.

Why are there so many Puerto Ricans in Orlando? ›

The family is one small part of a sudden exodus of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans racing to Florida after Hurricane Maria, a migration so large it rivals those from New Orleans to Houston after Hurricane Katrina and from Cuba to Miami during the Mariel boatlift.

Why are there so many Puerto Ricans in Connecticut? ›

Puerto Rico's Department of Labor and private companies recruited workers travel to the mainland. Those who came to Connecticut were often married men from lower-income areas who sent money back to the island to their families.

What are Puerto Ricans in New York called? ›

The term Nuyorican is also sometimes used to refer to the Spanish spoken by New York Puerto Ricans. An estimated 1,800,000 Nuyoricans are said to live in New York City, the largest Puerto Rican community outside Puerto Rico.

Does Puerto Rico get welfare? ›

The Adult Programs in the Territories provide monthly cash payments eligible to financially deprived aged, blind and disabled persons in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. These payments help with food, shelter, clothing, and other daily living needs.

Why do so many Puerto Ricans leave Puerto Rico? ›

The search for economic opportunity is the most commonly given explanation for moving by island-born Puerto Ricans who relocated to the mainland from 2006 to 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

What are the major problems in Puerto Rico? ›

The debate over Puerto Rico's statehood remains as relevant as ever, as the island struggles with the combined effects of economic depression, shrinking population, debt crisis and bankruptcy, natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, and government mismanagement.

Are there more Mexicans or Puerto Ricans in New York? ›

The 2019 survey found 702,000 Dominicans in the city, compared to 685,000 Puerto Ricans. Mexicans were a distant third at 337,000, followed by Ecuadorians, Colombians and Hondurans.

Are Puerto Ricans Native Americans? ›

Later DNA studies started to show that people in the Caribbean did indeed have Native American mitochondrial DNA: 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans, 23 to 30 percent of Dominicans and 33 percent of Cubans. That is a high number of genetic markers for a supposedly extinct people.

Are there more Dominicans or Puerto Ricans in NYC? ›

Dominicans recently became the city's largest Latino population, dethroning the older longstanding Puerto Rican population, they now make up 9% of New York City and nearly 35% of New York Latinos.

Do Puerto Ricans pay US income tax? ›

More In Help. If you're a bona fide resident of Puerto Rico during the entire tax year, you generally aren't required to file a U.S. federal income tax return if your only income is from sources within Puerto Rico.

Can Puerto Ricans legally work in the US? ›

Because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they have an advantage in competitive labor markets over foreign workers who require a visa in order to be employed in the U.S.A. U.S. companies need skilled tradespeople as well as entry-level workers who receive training on the job.

Do Puerto Ricans need a visa to live in the US? ›

The citizens of Puerto Rico who are interested in immigration in U.S., do not need to obtain a visa in order to relocate in this country, due to the fact that Puerto Rico is considered an American territory.

What are Puerto Rican mixed with? ›

Studies have shown that the racial ancestry mixture of the average Puerto Rican (regardless of racial self-identity) is about 64% European, 21% African, and 15% Native Taino, with European ancestry strongest on the west side of the island and West African ancestry strongest on the east side, and the levels of Taino ...

Is Puerto Rico considered Latino? ›

OMB defines "Hispanic or Latino" as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

What problems do Puerto Ricans have in Spanish Harlem? ›

At the same time, many migrants struggled with poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination in their new home. Darker-skinned Puerto Ricans often found themselves excluded from jobs, education, and housing, and were frequently attacked by non-Puerto Rican street gangs.

How many people are moving out of Puerto Rico? ›

New decennial census data released in August show Puerto Rico lost nearly 440,000 people, representing about 12% of its population, over the past decade.

What is Puerto Rico's population 2022? ›

The current population of Puerto Rico is 2,692,685 as of Sunday, October 9, 2022, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data.

How many Puerto Ricans left Puerto Rico after Maria? ›

This modification yields a net out-migration of 215,166 people. After applying the ratio method and accounting for the return migration shown in the APT data for early 2018, the new method gave us an annual net out-migration of 123,399 people from Puerto Rico to other parts of the United States.

Is Puerto Rico growing? ›

Puerto Rico Population Projections

If this proves to be true, the annual growth rate will likely be close to -0.62% by 2050 and the population of Puerto Rico will be roughly 3,650,608 in 2020, 3,592,748 in 2030, 3,474,434 in 2040, and 3,281,904 in 2050.

Which state has the most Puerto Ricans? ›

The principal state of residence for Puerto Ricans is New York, which has over one million Puerto Ricans, followed by New Jersey and Florida.

Does Puerto Rico get welfare? ›

The Adult Programs in the Territories provide monthly cash payments eligible to financially deprived aged, blind and disabled persons in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. These payments help with food, shelter, clothing, and other daily living needs.

Why do so many Puerto Ricans leave Puerto Rico? ›

The search for economic opportunity is the most commonly given explanation for moving by island-born Puerto Ricans who relocated to the mainland from 2006 to 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

What is the poorest city in Puerto Rico? ›

Adjuntas, Puerto Rico has the lowest median household income of any county or county-equivalent in the United States.
...
Puerto Rico municipalities ranked by per capita income.
Rank1
MunicipalityGuaynabo
Per capita income (2017)$24,264
Median household income (2017)$34,060
77 more columns

Do Puerto Ricans pay taxes? ›

Puerto Rican residents are taxed in Puerto Rico on their worldwide income, no matter where the income is sourced. Puerto Rican non-residents are only taxed in Puerto Rico on their Puerto Rico-source income. Income for services performed is sourced to Puerto Rico based on where the services are performed.

What was the population of Puerto Rico in 1950? ›

The pre- liminary population total for Puerto Rico on April 1, 1950 was 2,205,398, represent- ing an increase of 18.0 percent over the 1940 population total of 1,869,255.

Are Puerto Rican US citizens? ›

(KTVX) – Are Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens? The short answer is yes, but they do not have all the same rights or follow the same policies as those born in the states. Puerto Rico is considered an organized, unincorporated territory.

How many Puerto Ricans live on the island of Puerto Rico? ›

Recent estimates say that there are about 5.8 million Puerto Ricans living in the States, compared with 3.2 million on the Island.

When was the last time Puerto Rico had a tsunami? ›

Puerto Rico Tsunami Program

The danger of a tsunami in Puerto Rico is real. Since 1867, two tsunamis have affected their coastal region, causing death and destruction in 1867 and 1918.

Why does US want Puerto Rico? ›

The strategic value of Puerto Rico for the United States at the end of the nineteenth century centered in economic and military interests. The island's value to US policy makers was as an outlet for excess manufactured goods, as well as a key naval station in the Caribbean.

What are the major problems in Puerto Rico? ›

The debate over Puerto Rico's statehood remains as relevant as ever, as the island struggles with the combined effects of economic depression, shrinking population, debt crisis and bankruptcy, natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, and government mismanagement.

Can Puerto Ricans move to mainland US? ›

Its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917, but they have no vote in Congress. As citizens, the people of Puerto Rico can move throughout the 50 states just as any other Americans can—legally, this is considered internal migration, not immigration.

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