SAN JUAN – The severe economic crisis that the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico has gone through over the past 10 years has caused the greatest exodus in its modern history, with emigration increasing daily and which just last year reduced the population by 2 percent.
Raul Figueroa, one of Puerto Rico’s most respected demographers, told EFE Tuesday that, according to a preliminary report, close to 70,000 people left the island in 2015, with most headed for the continental U.S.
Figueroa noted that this is a worrying figure considering that as of July 1, 2015 – the latest data available – only 3.47 million people lived in this Caribbean territory.
In 2014 the island had already suffered a loss of 1.8 percent of its population.
“Emigration could increase if a federal oversight board arrives from Washington,” the demographer said about the possibility that the U.S. Congress might submit Puerto Rico to the control of a federal unit that would dictate its debt reduction and taxation policies.
Puerto Rico incurred its first massive default last Sunday when it failed to meet its payment on a $422-million debt.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the island does not have the liquidity necessary to pay off the debt and still provide basic services for the population.
“Emigration will increase if the provision of services gets worse, if schools are closed and if the jobs people need cannot be provided,” Figueroa said about what might happen if the feared federal oversight board should take charge, with its possible cutbacks of social services and dismissals of public employees.
Figueroa said that if the situation gets worse, “it’s no exaggeration” to think that by 2020 the population of Puerto Rico could shrink by 8 percent to 3.2 million.
It is estimated that over the past 10 years, Puerto Rico lost close to 10 percent of its population, and current emigration figures are the highest in modern Puerto Rican history, even higher than those of the “Great Migration” in the 1950s, according to figures of the commonwealth’s Institute of Statistics.