New Census Data Show Population Drop in Puerto Rico

The U.S. Census Bureau announced the changes in population that have occurred in U.S. States and territories over the past decade. Puerto Rico’s population has fallen by 11.8%, to 3.285 million.

Puerto Rico’s population peak was 3.8 million people in 2004, but there has been a fairly steady decline since then.

U.S. population growth and loss

The United States, including all States and territories, gained 7.1% in population. Puerto Rico’s population loss was the largest of any State or territory.

Among States, West Virginia showed the greatest population loss, with a drop of 3.2%. Utah showed the greatest growth, with 18.5% increase in population.

FOMB predictions

The most recent Certified Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico predicted a 10% drop between 2019 and 2026, and a 33% drop between 2019 and 2051. The Census reported an 11.8% decline between 2010 and 2020.

However, the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board estimated 3.03 million residents in 2020, a lower figure than that reported by the Census Bureau.

The Fiscal Plan mentions migration from Puerto Rico to the States as a major reason for the drop in population, but suggests that this should balance out in the future. Hurricane Maria and the federal failure to respond to its devastation, last year’s earthquakes, and COVID-19 are all listed as causes of migration from the Island.

However, the plan also points out the falling birth rate and the overall aging of the population have also led to a natural decrease in population which the board does not see ending. The combination of people moving away from Puerto Rico and the natural population decrease, the Board says, will maintain a 1 to 2% decrease in Puerto Rico’s population every year in the foreseeable future. This may be unnecessarily pessimistic, based on the new Census data.

The population of Puerto Rico is currently about the same as in the 1970s; however, the Fiscal Plan points out that Puerto Rico is now “much poorer relative to” the United States as a whole than it was in the 1970s.

The Board announced their intention to continue to analyze the data “as it becomes available” to see how it will affect financial plans.

Governor’s response

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said the census results should not be a surprise to anyone. In fact, he said, the news is better than expected. “Everybody knew about this drop in Puerto Rico’s population,” the governor said. “In fact, the reduction was expected to be greater than what the Census reported.”

Pierluisi pointed out that Puerto Rico is receiving and expecting more federal funding than in previous years. He mentioned the release of federal disaster funding, increased funding in federal programs where Puerto Rico has experienced inequality, and extending both the child tax and Earned Income Tax credits to Puerto Rico.

“All of these measures the federal government is taking will help improve the quality of life in Puerto Rico in the future. I envision us not losing population at the level we have had in this decade from 2010 to 2020 and that we can hold the population steady or increase it,” said Pierluisi.

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