While the common perception is that Puerto Rico is losing its best, brightest and youngest professionals, who are leaving the island in droves for jobs and better opportunities in the United States, Centro researcher Kurt Birson said there is no evidence of a brain drain on the island.
In his article “Puerto Rican Migration in the 21st Century: Is There a Brain Drain?” published in Centro’s new book The State of Puerto Ricans 2013, Birson counters the prevailing brain drain notion, noting that yes, there is an exodus of mostly younger Puerto Ricans leaving the island, but the data does not support that they are – as it has been long perceived, widely accepted and commonly reported in the media – largely professionals. Just recently the Wall Street Journal ran just such a story on its front-page, focusing on how the island’s woes are sparking an exodus, particularly among many of the young professionals.
Following the method used of the Institute of Statistics of Puerto Rico (2010), Centro used data from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey (ACS) and the Puerto Rico Community Survey (PRCS) one–year estimates to create a profile of Puerto Ricans migrating between the United States and Puerto Rico. By comparing ACS and PRCS, Centro was able to identify migrants by an individual’s residence one year prior to the survey.
Data for emigrants derived from the ACS for 2000-2011, Birson said, show that this “particular cohort of migrants tended to be younger, neither more nor less educated, more attached to the labor force and made up of more blue-collar workers than their counterparts on the island who stayed behind.”
In his article, Birson finds instead that “emigrants were less educated those remaining on the islan with the majority (55 percent of those leaving the island having a high school education or less. Fifteen percent held a bachelor’s degree, and just five percent had attained a graduate degree, a slightly smaller representation than for those remaining in Puerto Rico.”
Among those migrating to the U.S., men had lower educational attainment than women, representing a larger percentage with a high school diploma or less than the women, while a higher percentage of women had either some college or a bachelor’s degree.
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. These emigration patterns, he said, “do represent a collective departure of Puerto Ricans from all corners of society that threatens to further debilitate an already struggling Puerto Rican economy.”
Data show that younger people are leaving the island, probably because of high unemployment there. More than 77 percent of emigrants were younger than 45 years old, compared with nearly 62 percent remaining on the island. Nearly 66 percent of emigrants were of working age (between 18 and 65). “The highest percentage of migrants (almost 27 percent) came from the group under 18 years old, suggesting that when people choose to emigrate to the U.S., they migrate as households,” Birson said.
Research shows that emigrants, whether professional or not, joined the labor force after arriving stateside, but they were underrepresented in professional jobs and overrepresented in lower-skill industries, especially among men. They were especially involved in the construction, maintenance and agriculture industries.
While emigrants show higher rates of participating in the labor force in the U.S. compared to those who remain in Puerto Rico, they also experience higher rates of unemployment (The Labor Force category includes both employed and unemployed individuals). Emigrants were unemployed at a rate of 24.6 percent after their migration, compared with the 17.2 percent unemployment rate for Puerto Ricans who remained on the island during the same period. “This surprising finding may be the result of several factors,” Birson said, such as English language ability, work history or the competitive job market.
Centro researcher Carlos Vargas-Ramos, one of the editors of The State of Puerto Ricans 2013, said media reports have been putting too much attention on the professionals leaving the island and not on the unskilled and semi-skilled population when data shows that overall migrants leaving the island generally are representative of the population that remains there.
Vargas-Ramos said the impetus to emigrate is primarily due to the economic conditions on the island, which are once again creating an unsustainable environment that leads to migration to the United States of the island’s professionals and most skilled workers as well as the unskilled and semi- skilled populations. The migration issue, he said, speaks to the real problem: the Puerto Rican government has to stimulate the economy in a sustainable way and, regardless of political party, come up with a different economic policy for the island that works.
“Puerto Rico’s best resource is its people, its human capital, no matter the skill set, "he said" and the island is not utilizing it in the most productive manner. Puerto Rico is losing its most natural, precious resource.”
You can read the entire report in The State of Puerto Ricans 2013, available at the Centro Store at www.centropr-store.com