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Puerto Ricans, Trying to Escape Economic Crisis, Seek Refuge in Florida

By: Marianela Toledo - Oct 1, 2013, 6:47 am

More and more Puerto Ricans are moving to the United States to escape an economic crisis that’s nearing its eighth year.

In 2010, about 3.7 million Puerto Ricans were living in the United States. In two years that number jumped to 4.9 million, which would mean more native Puerto Ricans are living in the United States than there are Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico.

Puerto-Rico
Moving out: a recent Census report shows more Puerto Ricans are living in United States than in their home country. Source: Florida Watchdog

Jorge Duany is director of the Cuban Research Institute and a professor of anthropology at Florida International University. He said the people leaving the island are generally the well-educated and highly skilled.

This isn’t lost on Florida Governor Rick Scott, who cited a US Census report saying the Sunshine State leads the nation in migration from Puerto Rico.

While the exodus may benefit states such as Florida, it’s making life tougher for people in Puerto Rico.

For starters, Duany said, transplants aren’t sending much of their earnings back to the island.

“In 2006 we did a survey attempting to measure the impact of migrant remittances and, at that time, the result was that only 5 percent of respondents in Puerto Rico received some type remittance from relatives in the United States. It is contradictory that the migration rate does not correspond with that of remittances.”

In fact, Puerto Rico is not even on the World Bank’s list of countries getting remittances from people in the United States.

According to Duany, US federal aid is keeping the island country economically afloat. Unlike India, China, and Mexico — three countries whose remittances add considerably to their respective Gross National Products — remittances to Puerto Rico are comparatively paltry.

padilla
Puerto Rico governor: Alejandro García Padilla. Source: Florida Watchdog

“Federal aid translates into food stamps, student loans, housing assistance, Social Security, and veterans’ pensions. These federal transfers have increased dramatically in recent years, while private remittances have remained stagnant,” said Duany.

Sergio Marxuach is director of public policy at the Center for a New Economy in Puerto Rico. In a September study, “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,” he wrote, “An objective analysis of this report leads us to conclude that the tax base of our socioeconomic system has eroded and continues to erode significantly. The central government and some public corporations are basically insolvent.”

Marxuach was not immediately available to comment.

According to a report by Reuters, nowhere else does the flight of professionals to other lands show up more than in collected sales taxes, which have fallen 31 percent in five years. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s public debt has skyrocketed to 97 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

This, in turn, has caused municipal bonds and debt ratings to fall dramatically, even flirting with junk-bond status — similar to Detroit’s debt rating before bankruptcy, which is a “very real possibility” for Puerto Rico, Duany said.

Puerto Rico Governor Garcia Padilla is pushing an overhaul of the public employee pension system and is working to strengthen public corporations.

Padilla has re-opened the formerly closed Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration regional office in Kissimmee — an effort, he said, to “Keep, Maintain and Strengthen ties” with the nearly 900,000 Puerto Ricans in Florida.

Differences between Padilla and Pedro Pierluisi, the resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., have hindered efforts for US statehood, as neither can agree on whether Puerto Rico should be admitted to the United States.

Pierluisi, who supports statehood, filed a lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of using public money to hire lobbyists to persuade voters to favor independence and thwart November’s proposal for US statehood.

This article first appeared in Florida Watchdog.

Marianela Toledo Marianela Toledo

A native of Argentina, Toledo is an investigative reporter with Florida Watchdog. Contact her at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.