Although it's warm and sunny on the sandy beaches of San Juan, Puerto Rico, growing numbers of Puerto Ricans are leaving their island home for the US mainland.
For many, the indigent and more well-to-do alike, one of the first stops in New York is the nondescript offices of the nonprofit National Puerto Rican Forum (NPRF) in Queens. Puerto Rican lawyers and engineers come here to enroll in the job placement program. Blue collar laborers and their families, who have little money and find few job opportunities, often come for more basic reasons: food and shelter.
Puerto Rico has suffered - perhaps to a greater extent than other areas of the United States - from President Reagan's economic policies. The tax package passed by Congress last year has made the island less attractive to potential investors by, in effect, neutralizing the tax advantage Puerto Rico has long enjoyed.
Also, in recent years almost one-third of the island's GNP came from federal subsidies. So budget cuts, which first surfaced during the Carter administration , have triggered deep cuts in social service benefits of every kind, including food stamps and job training. Unemployment has soared.
Nelson Famadas, chairman of Puerto Rico Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo's economic advisory council, says that according to the most recent figures, unemployment is at 21.6 percent, up from 17 percent last April.
White House officials say they plan to take steps to shore up the commonwealth's ailing economy, with the intention of paving the way for statehood as early as 1985. Such steps fit into the new ''Caribbean Basin'' initiatives President Reagan touched on in his State of the Union address. They would not comment on what these plans would entail.
These same White House officials assert they plan to pursue statehood despite warnings from close observers that it could spur a new round of terrorist activity aimed at delaying and derailing altogether Puerto Rican statehood.