On top of ravaged finances and poor credit rating, Puerto Rico now has another problem: Its citizens are fleeing the island in droves. Since 2000, Puerto Rico has lost nearly 300,000 people to the mainland—a large number considering the total population of 3.6 million. What’s more, the exodus is only speeding up, with an average of 54,000 leaving the island over the past few years. And with the unemployment rate hovering near 15 percent, nearly double that of the mainland, the trend shows few signs of reversing. As the WSJ reports, this does not bode well for a speedy recovery:
Today, many of the people leaving are young professionals the island wants to retain, said Mario Marazzi, executive director of the Institute of Statistics. […]That could have profound effects on the territory, which already is struggling with a 14.7% unemployment rate. The population decline will shrink the island’s tax base, lower demand for goods and services, and reduce investment, economists say.In addition, “if we’re losing young professionals, people at their most productive ages, we may have a huge problem trying to support the elderly population,” said Sergio Marxuach, public-policy director at the Center for a New Economy.
Unless Puerto Rico can do something to turn its economy around and hold on to the skilled young people it has been losing, things are likely to get worse before they get better. But doing that is a tall order for a territory with high debt and low credit.