The Search for Opportunity

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Why Puerto Rico’s youth chooses migration instead of living on the island.

Puerto Rico’s population has decreased an estimated half a million since 2010 and it’s no surprise that the youth is leading this movement in the island’s statistics. For the past 10 years the next generation of employees without higher education find themselves in dead end jobs, making $7.25-$8.25 an hour. Nevertheless you may think they should go back to school, college or get some type of certification, and even though it is a logical first reaction, it is incomplete.

The problem within the island is that most of the new generations, Millennial and Gen Z, entering the workforce with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree have the same prospects and offers of those who don’t have higher education. Spending years studying and possibly go into debt just to end up working several full-time or part-time jobs at $7.25 an hour for employment outside their field of study. These employment opportunities offer no financial stability, after complying with the probational periods, which in Puerto Rico is 9 months, most are fired. The few that remained employed are not offered growth opportunities, they will not grow within the company and will hold the same position as long as they work there. There are no health benefits on most jobs, which lead these generations to make due with poor dental hygiene, at home remedies and thinking whether they can feed their families after treating an infection. The population is at a stalemate with most of them making between $11,000-$19,000 in annual salary while having a family, car payments, mortgages, rent, utilities, a basic phone plan and groceries, what most call an impossible task.

For the Millenials and Gen Z their academic accomplishments are something to be proud of. Most of these prospecting and recent graduates are the first in their families to attend and some to graduate from higher education. Their passion for their education is something they fought for through multiple strikes, power outages, hurricanes and even earthquakes. They want this to mean something and give back what they learned to the island, help it grow and be better for the future generations and yet they can’t, there is no system in place for this. That can quickly turn into a sad situation for those who believed they could make it in Puerto Rico and after years of several failed attempts they feel forced and face the heartbreaking reality to leave their beloved island. They try to make who they are and what they can do worth something even if it means joining the thousands of others in the diaspora, let it be in the United States, Mexico, London, Germany, Japan or somewhere else. Surprisingly there is a vow taken by many to not return to their Caribbean home, except for the occasional getaway while others vow to only return when they have something to take back that can help the island progress and others to retire in the place that once brought them so much joy.

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