Puerto Rico’s Population Exodus and Brain Drain

In “Puerto Rico’s population exodus is all about jobs,” Haya El Nasser writes about the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez(in western Puerto Rico) and its “swelling ranks of engineering, science and nursing graduates looking for work.” El Nasser stresses that, “to the chagrin of many Puerto Ricans, luring the best and brightest off the island has become a breeze.” Apparently, recruiters for companies such as Boeing, Disney, NASA, and other U.S. government agencies, school districts, and hospitals from all over the U.S. flock to career fairs in Mayagüez, to court bilingual college grads trained in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

Puerto Rico has seen a historic population decline in the past few years, and this “brain drain” is a mere symptom of a larger problem rooted in an enduring recession where unemployment is still above 14%, compared with 8.3% nationally. [. . .]

How bad is the exodus? So many residents are leaving the island that more Puerto Ricans now live on the mainland than in Puerto Rico. The commonwealth’s population had a steeper loss than any of the 50 states since 2006, according to the Census Bureau. In the year ended July 1, 2011, the island lost about 15,000 residents, a 0.4% slide, to a current population of 3.7 million. That’s a bigger drop than Rhode Island and Michigan, the only states to see a decline. Increasingly, the exodus is led by educated professionals — young and middle-aged.

[. . .] “Professionals are being forced to leave,” says Daphne Santa, a speech and language pathologist at the Orlando VA Medical Center and chairwoman of the Puerto Rican Professionals Association based in South Florida. “It’s not that they want to.” [. . .] “It’s a brain drain,” Santa says. “I’m afraid the island will continue to deteriorate because all the thinkers, the intellectuals, are forced to leave.”

At the same time, the number of births has slid from 60,000 in 2000 to 42,000 a year today.

More than 20% of Hispanics in Puerto Rico have a bachelor’s degree, a higher educational attainment than people of Puerto Rican origin living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia (16%), according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

[. . .] Less than nine months before the election, the administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño is desperately trying to lift the economy.

Puerto Rico as a film location is taking off (the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here) and a slew of new incentives — most designed to keep people on the island and get others to return — were recently adopted. The vision: become an international service center for legal, financial, insurance and real estate services by levying a low 4% tax on income generated from exported services and a 90% exemption on the payment of property taxes on call centers, warehouses and corporate headquarters.

Here in Mayagüez, the government’s industrial development arm is using the 50-building Guanajibo Research and Innovation Park near the University of Puerto Rico’s local campus as a life sciences incubator. There’s Cutting Edge Superconductors Inc., which has developed new MRI technology. Another, LabChemS Corp., provides consulting services to the medical device industry, creating enough jobs to keep chemical engineers such as Laura Andujar, 28, here.

[. . .] Edisa Albino, 30, got her advanced degree at the University of Maryland but came back and worked three years as a medical technician. She was thinking of returning to the USA when one of the new companies offered her a job. She is now research and development lab director for CDI Laboratories, one of the start-ups at Guanajibo that’s developing antibodies to viruses in a partnership with Johns Hopkins University. [. . .] But this trickle of jobs simply isn’t enough to stem the exodus.

Fernando Colón, 29, sees every professional who leaves the island as an opportunity for himself. He estimates that more than half of his graduating class went to college in U.S. states, and fewer than 10% came back. Even his parents moved to Florida for a while, came back and now are thinking of returning. Colón wants to stay. His Per Capita Consulting firm, run with three partners, helps local municipalities take advantage of federal grants for business development. He sees a future in solar energy. “I have thought about it,” Colón says about leaving. “But there are great opportunities here.”

For full article, see http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-03-11/puerto-rico-economy-brain-drain-exodus/53490820/1

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