Cuba’s Low Birth Rate, Increasing Emigration and Declining Population

Cuba is facing three demographic challenges: low birth rate, increasing emigration and declining and aging population. Underlying all of these are poor economic conditions on the island.

Low Birth Rate[1]

Cuba “has experienced a progressive decline in its birth figures since the beginning of this century {in 2000]. . . [In] 2000 the number of people born on the island stood at 143,528, and in 2018 the figure had dropped to 116,333…. This data ranks Cuba as one of the countries in the world with the lowest gross birth rates: 10.4 per thousand (compared to the 33.4 per thousand registered in 1965).”

Moreover, in 2019, “ infant mortality increased to 5.0 deaths per 1,000 live births.” For preschoolers (between one and four years), the mortality rate . . . also increased from 3.0 to 3.5 per 10,000. The main causes were accidents, acute respiratory infections and malignant tumors.” In addition, Cuba has one of the highest abortion rates: 72.8 for every 100 births.

“it is clear to all that these birth trends are owing to a wide range of very heterogeneous factors and causes, but the really important thing is that it has very specific consequences, especially financial and economic. In the specific case of Cuba the low birth rate is compounded by an increase in life expectancy, at 78.4 years, which represents a demographic time bomb for any country while representing a massive challenge to the financial sustainability of an economy based on a model like Castroist Cuba’s, in which everything depends on the State.”

This data can be explained, in part, by “the current economic situation (the average monthly salary barely reaches $30)” and the inability to accumulate wealth.” In addition, “the challenges that people face, especially women, regarding work, finances, and the raising of children. . . . In short, the social and economic conditions racking Cuban society are the main damper on birth rates.”

“The Communist authorities have refused to realize that in order to solve the birth-rate problem in Cuba, existing compensatory and allocative policies do not work.” Instead, “policies should be aimed at effectively promoting economic growth, prosperity, higher standards of living for all Cubans, the accumulation of capital and wealth, savings and investment.” In short, “the Communist authorities have refused to realize that in order to solve the birth rate problem in Cuba, existing compensatory and allocative policies do not work. In Cuba, to date, adequate policies have not been implemented to counteract the trends observed.”

“Policies should be aimed at effectively promoting economic growth, prosperity, higher standards of living for all Cubans, the accumulation of capital and wealth, savings and investment.”

Increasing Emigration[2]

Lisette Poole, who has Cuban heritage, but was born and raised in the U.S., decided to live in Cuba after the December 2014 announcement of the two countries’ move towards  normalization of relations. However, in May 2016, she decided to return to the U.S. after she had observed that “most [Cubans] were struggling to get by and felt frustrated” and that “neither education nor employment can guarantee a living wage.” This situation became even worse with the Trump Administration’s sanctions and reduced support from reeling Venezuela.

She left with a Cuban woman who hoped to arrive at the U.S. while the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” policy that would allow them to enter the U.S. on foot was still in effect. They first flew from Cuba to Georgetown, Guyana; then they went by canoe to Brazil, then through Peru to Colombia. The next stage was on a fishing boat to the Darien Gap in Colombia and afterwards by hiking to Panama, by bus to Costa Rica (with a coyote), by walking through Nicaragua and Mexico to the border crossing at Laredo, Texas, where she with “dry feet” was admitted to the U.S. (The U.S. policy that allowed that entry was terminated on January 12, 2017)[3]

The Cuban woman that year (2016) was one of 56,406 Cubans who entered the U.S. via ports of entry. Previously in Fiscal 2014 and 2015 there were  24,278 and 43,159 such entrants.

An author in Diario de Cuba, Roberto Alverez Quinones, asserts that “from the Crisis de los Balseros (Rafter Crisis) in 1994 until 2015 some 660,000 Cubans emigrated, but experts consider believe that the figure actually ascends to one million people.” Now the total “Cuban diaspora currently totals over two million emigrants, meaning that 18% of Cuba’s total population has left it.” “Today, those who emigrate are young people who make up the economically active population (EAP), the driving force that makes the world go around.”

“No one knows [how many will emigrate in 2020.] What is known is that the exodus of Cubans will continue until more pressure is placed on the military gerontocracy that rules the country, it is driven from power, and the constrained power of the Cuban people is finally unleashed.”

On December 11, 2019, the Cuban Government announced that in April 2020 it would hold a conference in Havana about emigration. The stated purpose is to strengthen relations with the emigrants although the Government’s statement emphasized improving relations with Cubans born abroad and those “who do not have a position that is openly against the island’s government.”

Cuba’s Aging, Declining Population[4]

While the number of younger Cubans declines due to low birth rate and increasing emigration, the number of older Cubans increases due to increased life expectancy. The result, Cuba is experiencing an aging, declining population.

 Poor Economic Conditions in Cuba [5]

Underlying all of the above circumstances is the poor economic conditions on the island.

Comparisons with other Latin American countries show the island’s poor economic conditions. “The minimum wage in Cuba today is a quarter of that in Haiti” while  the Cuban average salary is only one-half of that in Haiti. Similar comparisons exist for Chili, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and even poor countries of Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Poverty in Cuba is aggravated by unemployment, despite the government’s erroneous statistics. According to statistics published by different official media, in June of 2018 there were 6.2 million Cubans of working age in Cuba, and 1.7 million of them were not working or studying. This means a technical unemployment rate of 27%. Today, with the worsening economic crisis, it might exceed 30%, and may even be at 33%.

Another contributing factor to Cuba’s poor economic conditions is the ramped-up sanctions by the Trump Administration.[6]

Sociologist’s Comments on the Situation

Elaine Acosta, a sociologist and specialist in population aging, international migration and welfare policies, recently commented on the Cuban government’s new National Survey on Population Aging.[7]

She said it “reaffirms the speed and magnitude with which the process of population aging . . . [is occurring] in Cuban society . . .[putting] the Island at the forefront of aging processes throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The only population group that . . . [is growing] is 60 years and older, especially 75 years and older.”

The projected continuation of this trend will make “the care crisis” deeper and more complex. On the one hand, the demand for Geriatrics, Gerontology services will inevitably continue to increase [along with] Security, Social Assistance and Care. In turn, [this will have] a great impact on the economy . . ., taking into account the decrease in the population potential with capacity for employment and the demand for education at all levels.”

These consequences will have a greater effect on older women due to “the feminization of aging on the Island. Women are not only the majority among the elderly (46.6% of men and 53.4% ​​of women), but also have a greater life expectancy than men.” More generally these consequences will disadvantage “historically disadvantaged groups: women, elderly people, blacks, people with disabilities or street situations, as well as communities in larger territories.”

All of these consequences will  “require important political, economic and cultural changes at different levels (normative, political and programmatic) of social policy. It is a process that, given its complexity and size, will require competition and integration of new social actors (NGOs, churches, the market, etc.), as well as the elderly themselves and their families. ”

In summary, she said, “the problems presented raise the need for a reform of the Cuban social welfare regime in such a way that it can meet the economic, social and health needs of the advanced aging of the population, the population bleeding caused by migration as well as the new demands and social problems that result from these processes and their inadequate management and intervention. ”

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[1] Amor, New Policies Are Needed to Resolve Cuba’s Birth Rate Crisis, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 16, 2019); The numbers are no longer coming to the Government: child mortality rises, births plummet, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 3, 2020); Cuba’s Aging, Declining Population Continues, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2019) .

[2] Id; Krogstad, Surge in Cuban immigration to U.S. continued through 2016, Pew Research Center (Jan. 13, 2017); Poole, Two Women, 11 Countries; A Long Strange Trip From Havana to the U.S., N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2019); Alvarez Quińones, How Many Cubans Will Emigrate in 2020? Diario de Cuba (Jan. 14, 2020); Why do young Cuban professionals emigrate to Mexico? (video), Diario de Cuba (Jan. 28, 2020).

[3] U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2017).

4] Cuba’s Success and Problems with an Aging, Declining Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 10, 2019);  70% of Cuban elders live deprivation and deprivation, recognizes and official survey,  Diario de Cuba (Dec. 11, 2020); Cuba’s Aging, Declining Population, dwkcommentaries. com ( Jan. 13, 2020).

[5] Alvarez Quińones, Poverty Decreasing Around the World, But Rising in Cuba Diario de Cuba (Nov. 29, 2019).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Young Cuban Discusses the Many Problems of His Country (July 5, 2019); Cuba’s Suffering from Continued U.S. Hostility (Aug. 17, 2019); Decline of U.S. Visitors to Cuba (Aug. 22, 2019);        Dwindling Hope in Cuba (Dec. 18, 2019); President Trump Proclaims His “Success” on Cuba  (Jan. 13, 2020).

[7] The current panorama in Cuba ‘is discouraging to project a dignified old age,’ Diario de Cuba (Jan. 27, 2020).