Courtesy Reuters

Population and Progress in Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO'S valiant struggle to industrialize throws significant light on the relation of population to social change. Thirteen years ago the situation there looked hopeless. With nearly 2,000,000 inhabitants and a density of 520 persons per square mile, the island was increasing its numbers at a rate that would double the population in 35 years. Puerto Rico was poverty ridden and economically stagnant. The annual per capita income was only $119, and no increase in manufacturing had occurred for a decade. As H. S. Perloff says, "Of all the important indices, only the index of population growth showed a sustained and uninterrupted rise." The ever increasing numbers of people of working age were swelling the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed. Relief from the United States was flowing into the island at a rate of about $23,000,000 per year, with every prospect that the burden would expand.

Anyone acquainted with the island in 1938 felt the existing situation intolerable, and although certain solutions could be imagined, the odds seemed heavily against their being achieved. If, for example, the birth rate could be quickly reduced to equal the death rate, the population pressure at least would get no worse. But there was no sign that the birth rate would decline; no sign that the population would be less than 2,225,000 by 1950 or the density less than 650 per square mile. Perhaps migration would help; but after a period when as many Puerto Ricans came back as left, it was hard to visualize a regular exodus of some 40,000 per year. Obviously, agricultural improvement and land redistribution had only limited value; for no matter how well tilled or how equitably divided, each square mile of cultivated land could not support adequately the 1,300 people per square mile estimated for 1950. Possibly industrialization would help, but how could Puerto Rico industrialize? The island was too small and its people too poor to provide a local market. Located inside the United States tariff wall, the island had only one big market, the mainland; and how could

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