Brain drain is one of the main causes of the country’s economic struggle.

By: Jorge E. Ortiz Montalvo

“Brain drain”, what is this term that has been roaming around campus so much during the semester? “The loss of skilled intellectual and technical labor through the movement of such labor to more favorable geographic, economic, or professional environments” as published by the free dictionary online. It is basically the emigration of professionals to other countries.

Here in University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez we’re not strangers to this happening, since we see many students leave the island shortly after graduation. In a survey conducted on October, four out of five students said they plan to leave Puerto Rico right after graduation, but not only recently graduated students leave, other professionals around the island decide to leave.

“The number of doctors and teachers who left Puerto Rico for the U.S. mainland quadrupled in a year”, according to the Census Bureau. According to the latest Puerto Rico community survey, “the percentage of people who left the island with some sort of college or post-secondary education rose to 50 percent in 2011 from 38 percent in 2010.”

A report from the census bureau on Dec. 11, 2012 stated, “Puerto Rico’s population dropped another 27,000 over the year.” Another report from a community survey on Dec. 14, 2012 stated, “76,218 people that lived in the U.S. resided in Puerto Rico a year earlier.”

The falling population is raising red flags here and in the states. Even Wall Street is alarmed by islands economic future. You see, people emigrating of Puerto Rico sets of a chain reaction. Solutions keep taking “steps” back from our grasp. The chain reaction will be later explained.

But why do people keep leaving? There a million reasons people decide to abandon the island. The main reasons are: job opportunities, higher incomes, and to escape the country’s worsening economy. Other reasons can be the fact that criminality is at its peak in the island and family.

The job market in Puerto Rico, the job opportunities here are horrible. “The long-term recession, brain drain, and struggling businesses crisis has shaped Puerto Rico’s job scene to a point where growth at its best” stated Héctor Monclova Vázquez and Rosario Fajardo in their article “How the economic crisis has reshaped Puerto Rico’s job scene”. The job scene can only keep getting worse.

As stated in the article “How the economic crisis has reshaped Puerto Rico’s job scene”, from 258,000 government job positions (May 2012) to 246,700 on May 2013. In the same period of time the construction industry dropped from 36,600 to 29,300. The list keeps on going in the fields of: Manufacturing jobs, Trade, Transportation and Utilities, and Education and Health. All of these dropping thousands and thousands in numbers of job openings.

The median household income in 2012 was $51,371 as stated by the U.S. Census Bureau and 2012 American community survey and Puerto Rican community survey. While states like Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey were ones of the few top ranking states with $60,000 or more as their median household income, Puerto Rico was one of the lowest ranking states with $45,000 or less. But 45 sounds good, while taking a closer look at a chart from the same source, it said that Puerto Rico averages $20,000 as the median household income (Figure 1a and 1b).

“Since 2006 personal consumption has crept up 2 percent, while the real Gross National Product (GNP) has fallen by 12 percent”, stated the article “buying on credit is so nice” about Puerto Rico’s economy. People want to buy what they want even if they can’t actually afford it. Soon everyone is in debt, and then they actually see that they can’t afford anything else for “awhile”, and then the stores and companies start falling short on money. Soon after the government starts feeling it too, the chain reaction keeps on going.

We know the island is in bad shape but did we know it is actually worse than we think? “The Economic situation in the island right now is not surprising to younger people because it has been going on for so long that you have lived in it for most of your life, when it is actually a huge crisis we are living in” said Professor Sotomayor in a press conference on brain drain held in campus on Oct. 17.

While these are the main reasons for the loss of professionals, smaller and more versatile reasons depend on the person. These can be: criminality and family.

While San Juan is the best place to find jobs, it is also the city that has the highest crime rate in Puerto Rico. With criminality arising, even tourists are scared of coming to the island. “It was recently brought to my attention that it might be an unsafe place to go… 

We will likely stay mostly at the resort, but also wanted to go to Old San Juan for dinner one night. Is that a bad idea”, asked a user in a travel blog online.

These people don’t even live here, this is everyday life here in Puerto Rico and everybody is disgusted by it. While the U.S. is not as far away in its crime rate from us, they have a much larger territory. They also have more “calmer” locations. In 2011, Puerto Rico broke its own record by logging 1,135 homicides, 30 killings per 100,000 residents, stated the Miami Herald.

Some people just want to leave because their family lives in the “mainland”. In other cases like the one with mechanical engineering student, Brian Rullán, he plans to leave to the states to work on expanding his family business. He also stated that he wants to return after a few years.

The chain reaction stated in the fourth paragraph is simple. Professionals’ leave, this starts to hinder company’s effectiveness, they start to pay less to their employees and they start to spend less. “Spending less” is a “stabbing” to the economy. “Unless Puerto Rico acts, a full recovery might be decades away”, said Jean Vidal in his article “Puerto Rico’s Brain Drain Problem”.


Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 10.21.33 PM

Brain Drain Conference held at UPRM on October 17, 2013. From left to right: Brian Rullán (testimony), Michael Gonzalez (Sociologist), and Orlando Sotomayor (Economist).

Figure 2a: State/ Providence map, income by state.

Figure 2a: State/ Providence map, income by state.

Figure 2b: Median house hold incomes

Figure 2b: Median house hold incomes.




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