Who Is the Puerto Rican Migrant?

Vargas - PR Summit 2016
Prof. Carlos Vargas-Ramos of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican migrant. /photo by Maria Padilla

More than 440,000 Puerto Ricans have left Puerto Rico since an economic recession hit the island in 2006 and which hasn’t relented.

As is well documented, Florida has become the No. 1 destination for migrants, boosting the Sunshine State’s Puerto Rican population to over 1 million – and growing.

But who is taking up residence in Florida and how does that migrant compare with the Puerto Rican who stays behind?

That was the subject of a presentation at the seventh annual Puerto Rican Summit in Orlando, where scores of Puerto Ricans gathered to hear academic and other experts discuss migration trends and the island’s fiscal crisis.

Profile of the Puerto Rican Migrant

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, professor at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies affiliated with Hunter College in New York (centropr.hunter.cuny.edu), sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican newcomer by the numbers:

• 31 PERCENT

Puerto Ricans who left the island since 2006 are concentrated in just eight Central Florida counties.

• 50-50

Gender split among migrants, a major difference compared with, say, Mexican immigration, which is mostly male. The Puerto Rican migrant wants to keep the family together, Vargas said.

• 61 PERCENT

Participate in the Florida labor force, versus just 40 percent on the island, a significant difference.

• 30 PERCENT

Migrants with Bachelor’s degrees versus 28 percent in Puerto Rico.

The island is hollowing out, Vargas said. “It is the middle section of Puerto Rican economy that is leaving,” he noted.

That leaves Puerto Rico with higher- and lower-income population groups but not enough taxpaying middle income-earning households. And it’s also creating a downward spiral in many towns, where deaths now outnumber births or migration.

Reshaping Central Florida

Conversely, the nearly 150,000 Puerto Ricans who have resettled in Florida since 2006 are reshaping the local economy and politics. (The figure doesn’t include record Puerto Rico migration in 2015, according to preliminary reports.)

For instance, Florida’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in March – a much lower 4.2 percent in Orange County – approaching what economists call “full employment.” That means people who want to work have jobs, leaving positions unfilled because there aren’t enough people to apply. Enter the Puerto Rican migrant.

In the political sphere, Hispanic voter registration means that for the first time more Hispanics are registered to vote in Osceola County than nonHispanic whites (43 percent vs. 41 percent, as of February), which may impact elections if Hispanics exercise their vote.

But according to Vargas, Puerto Ricans generally have lower election participation rates, “leaving votes on the table.”

The Puerto Rican Summit, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton at SeaWorld, is organized by Dynamic CDC, a Miami-based economic development group that seeks to “create a vision for a greater Puerto Rican community in the U.S.”

Summit founder Luis De Rosa and others drafted a letter directed to White House and congressional leaders urging action to stem the financial and demographic bleeding in Puerto Rico, which is carrying over $72 billion in debt it cannot repay.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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