Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Puerto Rico Is Dying

You know the situation is dire when a story starts out, "Puerto Rico's population is dropping." I know what is coming. The other shoe drops, "According to the most recent census, the 4.6 million Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland now surpass those on the island of Puerto Rico." Yes, Puerto Rico is dying.

On the other hand, Puerto Ricans are thriving. From the same four-part NPR series:

The opening of Disney World came at a critical time for Puerto Rico, as the 1970s saw the beginning of an economic slowdown on the island that continues to this day.

But Jorge Duany, a professor of anthropology at Miami's Florida International University, says the financial troubles arrived after decades of prosperity on the island — an era that greatly expanded the middle class.

"And there was substantial economic growth," Duany says. "The educational system expanded. So there was actually a large group of people who were then capable of investing, migrating or at least buying land in Florida so they or their kids could use it later on."

Emphasis added. Just like Pittsburgh, the exodus from Puerto Rico is a tale of success. No one notices because places develop, not people.

While "brain drain" has become synonymous with demographic decline, the term is to be understood more literally. People of means, wealth and education, migrate long distances. Strong migration from one place to another for economic reasons is indicator of substantial human capital.  It's akin to tracking the flow of foreign direct investment.

Lastly, the NPR piece offers another interesting tidbit that will fall on deaf ears:

Today, Florida replaces New York as the primary destination for Puerto Ricans coming to the U.S. In Osceola County, Fla., the population has tripled over the past two decades largely because of the migration. It's one of the nation's fastest growing areas, and about half of the population is Hispanic — most of them Puerto Rican.

New York City has ceased to be an aspirational geography for upwardly-mobile Puerto Ricans. Opportunity is elsewhere (i.e. Florida). This shift in talent migration is evidence of convergence, not divergence. The Creative Class economy that Richard Florida describes is dying.

1 comment:

Tom Roland said...

"It's akin to tracking the flow of foreign direct investment."
=>Well said, Jim. Makes a lot of sense.