Report: Puerto Rico Exodus to Increase in the Next 2 Years
SAN JUAN – A report by Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies projects that outmigration from the island as a result of Hurricane Maria could be as high as 14% of the local population in the next two years, leading to a further “downward spiral” for the local economy.
This drastic depopulation in such a short span of time is considered “one of the most significant hurdles” for the island’s future economic recovery.
“From 2017 to 2019, we estimate that Puerto Rico may lose up to 470,335 residents or 14% of the population. In other words, Puerto Rico will lose the same population in a span of a couple of years after Hurricane Maria as the island lost during a prior decade of economic stagnation,” states the report. No significant return migration is expected for the year.
At the same time, Maria’s impact on the local economy has been devastating. “[T]he prospects for total employment to drop significantly in the months following Hurricane Maria are expected, given the collapse of the electrical system and the prognosis that it will take months to restore electricity to urban areas where jobs are concentrated,” the report reads. “The damage to the transportation and communications infrastructure will also take months to restore, directly affecting local commerce and the service sector.”
The report also cited grim projections from the Climate Impact Lab, which has analyzed the economic costs of storms over the past 60 years: “Maria could lower incomes by 21% over the next 15 years – a cumulative $180 billion in lost economic output.”
The findings are outlined in “Estimates of Post-Hurricane Maria Exodus from Puerto Rico,” by researchers Edwin Meléndez and Jennifer Hinojosa. The basis for the analysis was data from the U.S. Labor Department’s American Community Survey, spanning several years.
Based on the pattern of Puerto Rico outmigration to the U.S. mainland, the researchers project that the majority of local residents will move to Florida, followed by Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and New Jersey. Florida alone could face an influx of as many as 164,000 new residents from Puerto Rico in the next two years.
The migrant profile should be similar to the exodus that has occurred in recent years due to the island’s more than 10 years of zero or stagnant economic growth: working-age adults, defined as those between 25 to 64 years old, along with their children.
“The main consideration for this group [of working-age adults] in terms of local support services will be access to employment and housing, and relocation assistance, especially if they have families and children,” states the report.
In addition, thousands of college-age students are also expected to move stateside to continue their education, as some local universities already have campuses in Florida and other states. Meanwhile, various stateside universities are coordinating efforts to help these students with alternative programs of courses and/or exchanges.
Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20 and more than five weeks later an estimated 75% of the population is still without electricity service. While businesses with generators are able to operate, many companies of all sizes are still closed for lack of power, resulting in thousands of people effectively laid off.