Puerto Rico youth shrank by over a third since last census
Data indicate proportion of people younger than 18 fell to below 20%
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico is losing its youth at a rapid pace, as the population under age 18 on the island shrank by more than one-third between 2010 and 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday.
The number of island residents up to age 17 decreased from 897,024 as of July 1, 2010, to 572,731 as of July 1, 2019, according to U.S. Census Bureau’s annual population estimate. The data were released by the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute (PRSI), which manages such information locally.
As a result, Puerto Rico had 324,293 fewer infants, children and adolescents at the end of the nine-year period—constituting a 36 percent drop in this population. The proportion of people age 18 and younger on the island fell from 24 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2019, according to Census data.
During the same period, the population of Puerto Rico shrank by 14.2 percent, or 527,831 people, according to the data, which indicate that the island’s population fell from 3.7 million in 2010 to close to 3.2 million in 2019. The loss of 324,293 people under age 18 during the nine-year period constitutes 61.4 percent of the population decrease during the period.
The downward trend in the island’s youth population has serious implications for the sustainability of local schools and colleges, the replenishment of the workforce, and the viability of pension payments for a burgeoning number of retirees. Puerto Rico’s Education Department has used such data to justify the controversial closing of dozens of public schools throughout the island. Failing pension systems have led the commonwealth to default on its debt payments, prompting Congress in 2016 to establish the Financial Oversight and Management Board for the government.
While census data indicated a shrinking youth population, the number of people 65 years or older on the island grew during the nine-year period. That segment grew from 15 percent in 2010 to 21 percent in 2019, leading to a six-year increase in the median age, from 37 in 2010 to 43.2 in 2019.
“The population structure by age and sex (population pyramid) of 2010 in contrast to 2019 shows how the composition has changed rapidly in Puerto Rico. Its base is much narrower, indicating a decrease in infants, children and adolescents,” Alberto L. Velázquez‐Estrada, PRSI statistics projects manager, said in a press release.
Velázquez‐Estrada noted that there had been a “drastic decrease” in births on the island during the nine-year period. While the 0-4 and 5-9 age ranges constituted 3 percent of the population in 2010, this figure fell to below 2 percent in 2019, he said.
The Census data indicating the island’s shrinking youth population bears out similar results contained in the annual 2019 Kids Count Data Book report released a year ago by the local nonprofit Youth Development Institute (YDI). The study, which encompassed a 27-year period, found that the number of island residents up to age 17 dropped from 1.16 million in 1990 to 656,796 in 2017, a 43 percent drop.
The report, which tracks demographic and socioeconomic trends among children in the United States, found that the greatest decrease on the island has occurred since 2010, a period in which the number of minors dropped by 246,000, or 27.3 percent. By contrast, the island’s adult population fell by 137,849, or 10.3 percent, during the same period. The drop in the population of minors constitutes 64 percent of the population decline in Puerto Rico during that decade, according to the report.
In contrast to the local trend, the population of children in the continental United States increased from 64.2 million to 73.7 million, or by 14.8 percent, between 1990 and 2017, according to the report. The states with the largest growth in the number of children were Texas, Florida and California. Moreover, the proportion of Latino children more than doubled during the nearly 30-year period, from 12 percent to 26 percent.
Minors constituted about 19.7 percent of Puerto Rico’s estimated population of 3.34 million in 2017, according to the 2019 Kids Count Data Book report.