Puerto Ricans by the droves are leaving their native island for the United States because of a soured economy, a 14.7-percent unemployment rate and constant crime, The Wall Street Journal
Between 2000 and 2010, an approximate 288,000 fled the U.S. territory in search of better opportunities, according to the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics said. In 2011 and 2012, nearly 55,000 migrated away from the island of a little more than 3.6 million residents.
The problem stems from a $70-billion debt, downgraded bonds and a risk of default, which is why 46-year-old Janette Mondo moved to New Jersey, from San Juan, last summer.
"A country that doesn't have credit is destined to fail," the engineer said.
Many young professionals discouraged by the island's saturated job market, said Mario Marazzi, executive director of the institute. Marazzi said a mass exodus of teachers and attorneys – among other workers – has caused a slip in Puerto Rico's population to 3.62 million, down from 3.83 million in 2004.
The University of Puerto Rico's School of Medicine estimates 30 percent of its students leave the island after finishing their training, leaving voids in healthcare providers.
Sergio Marxuach, of the Center for a New Economy, said the departure of the younger set has broader implications on the island's future.
"If we're losing young professionals, people at their most productive ages, we may have a huge problem trying to support the elderly population," Marxuach said.
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts the population of Puerto Rico will slip further by 2050 – to 2.98 million, according to U.S. News & World Report
. That's how many lived there in 1975.
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla's office is taking proactive steps to woo investors, stimulate tourism and boost agriculture. Padilla's goal is to create 50,000 jobs in 18 months.
"This is not the first time our people have confronted big problems and managed to overcome them," said Ingrid Vila Biaggi, the governor's chief of staff.
Vicente Feliciano, of Advantage Business Consulting in San Juan, agreed.
"If the situation starts to improve, and the gap between the U.S. and Puerto Rico stabilizes, then the migration will taper," Feliciano said.
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