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Puerto Rico and its Diaspora

Blog Post by Professor César J. Ayala, Sociology, UCLA.

Puerto Rico and its Diaspora

César Ayala



In 2018, 64 percent of all Puerto Ricans lived in the 50 states and in the District of Columbia, while the remaining 36 percent lived in Puerto Rico. At the turn of the 21st century, the population of Puerto Rico was still slightly larger than the Puerto Rican population stateside. The Puerto Rican population in the continental United States surpassed that of the Island in 2006, the same year in which the 936 tax exemptions to industry expired in Puerto Rico, accelerating the exodus propelled by the loss of manufacturing jobs. The tax exemptions to industry provided by section 936 of the U.S Internal Revenue Code were phased out gradually during 1996-2006, causing a catastrophic drop in manufacturing employment in Puerto Rico.  

Source: Economic Research Division, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (

The Puerto Rican economy, which was never able to provide enough employment to the population throughout the 20th century, began to collapse as a result of the elimination of section 936. By the time the population figures of the 2020 Census are released, in all probability, two-thirds of Puerto Ricans will be located stateside, one-third in the Island. At present, the Puerto Ricans are a diasporic people.

The increase in the Puerto Rican population in the continent happened simultaneously with an absolute decrease of the population of the Island. Puerto Rico had more population in 2000 than it has today. The great exodus of the last two decades differs from the migration of Puerto Ricans in the 1950s in that the previous migratory wave did not produce an absolute decline of the population, but rather a slowdown of the increase in population in the Island. There was positive population growth despite the large number of Puerto Ricans that left for the United States every year. In the current wave, however, the exodus is compounded by the decline in natality rates, resulting in the shrinkage of the population from 3,810,605 inhabitants in 2000 to 3,193,354 in 2018, a reduction of 16%. One could say that one of every six inhabitants has left the Island.

Source: US Census, American Community Survey, 2000-2018.

The migratory flow of the last two decades is also different from the migration of the 1950s in terms of the destination of the migrants. The great receiving magnet for Puerto Ricans in the 1950s was New York City, followed by Philadelphia and Chicago. In the 21st century, the principal destination for Puerto Ricans is the state of Florida, which today houses the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans, having surpassed New York state. In 2018, 1,073,673 Puerto Ricans lived in the state of New York, which is 29,738 less than in the year 2000. During this same period the Puerto Rican population of Florida increased by 692,939, reaching a total of 1,171,637 in 2018. Two thirds of the increase in Florida in the period 2000-2018 was due to inflows from other U.S. states (452,462), while one third was due to an inflow of residents of Puerto Rico (240,472). Overall, the two states with the greatest concentrations of Puerto Ricans, Florida and New York, account for almost 40 percent of the 5,771,813 Puerto Ricans who lived stateside in the year 2018.

There are other states in which the Puerto Rican population experienced significant growth between 2000 and 2018. In Pennsylvania the increase amounted to 269,282, bringing the total Puerto Rican population to 472,213. In Texas the increase of 129,368 brought the total up to 213,809, while in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the increase amounted to 124,182, pulling the total upwards to 329,532 in the year 2018. The Puerto Rican population in the 50 states, which will soon reach 6 million, is distributed as indicated in the table at the end of this note.

These demographic indicators raise many questions. What is the significance of the fact that two thirds of Puerto Ricans now live outside Puerto Rico? Evidently, Puerto Ricans are a people who speak two languages, but not all Puerto Ricans speak two languages. What impact does the demographic fact of a Puerto Rican majority in the 50 states have on Puerto Rico and its political status options? What do these Puerto Rican demographics mean within the framework of massive changes in the demographic composition of the United States, where one of six inhabitants is, and soon one out of five will be Hispanic? There are now more than 60 million Hispanics in the United States (59,740,273 in the year 2018), which in economic terms means a Gross Domestic Product that is larger than that of the most populous Latin American countries (Brazil, Mexico). The increasing demographic weight of Latinos in the United States represents, potentially, a new political powerhouse capable of redefining the U.S. political system. What is the meaning of all these changes for Puerto Rico? We do not have the answers. For the moment, it is worth nevertheless to begin formulating the questions.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.


Actualización 2-3-2021

© César J. Ayala 2020



The opinions expressed in this blog post represent the views of the author and not of the UCLA Latin American Institute.


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