SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A record 64,000 Puerto Ricans left the island last year for the U.S. mainland, the highest number in the past decade, officials said Thursday.
The exodus represents a 31 percent increase from 2013, when some 49,000 people left, according to the island’s Institute of Statistics.
The surge in departures comes as the U.S. territory of 3.5 million people struggles with a nearly decade-long economic slump. The island has a 12 percent unemployment rate, higher than any U.S. state, and has a labor participation rate of less than 40 percent, compared to 62 percent on the U.S. mainland.
Overall, more than 200,000 people are estimated to have left Puerto Rico between 2010 and 2014, the majority of them families and young educated workers, local demographer Raul Figueroa said in a phone interview.
“Migration is accelerating,” he said. “The government has to take this issue seriously.”
Puerto Rico’s government has imposed new taxes, cut certain services and increased utility rates, among other things, to cut costs and generate more revenue as it struggles with a $72 billion debt that the governor has said is unpayable and needs restructuring.
It is those measures that are driving people away, Figueroa said………