El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s major newspaper, has been polling the Island population for thirty years. The most recent poll found that 25% of respondents expect to leave Puerto Rico in 2019. This percentage shows no change since the last survey, in March.
The number of people planning to leave is always larger than the number who actually do leave, the news source says, because for many the idea of leaving is a dream about a better life or an escape from current problems.
The U.S. Census Bureau puts Puerto Rico’s current population at 3.337 million, down from 3.811 million in 2000. Between 2005 and 2015, Puerto Rico lost more than 9% of its population — far more than Albania or the Ukraine, and more than any state has ever seen. The workforce has dwindled by 20%.
The Puerto Rico Statistics Institute estimated that Puerto Rico lost another 6% of its population directly after Hurricane Maria. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies calculated that the Puerto Rican population in the States grew by about 100,000 in 2017. It will be some time before accurate numbers are available, but all sources agree that the population continued to shrink after Hurricane Maria.
It’s easy to leave Puerto Rico for the states. People born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and are free to move to any state and work there. As people move to States for economic opportunity, the loss of population interferes with economic growth, creating a vicious circle.
Without a strong and stable workforce, it will be difficult for Puerto Rico to rebuild. El Nuevo Dia describes the need to reverse this trend as “urgent,” and expresses optimism about keeping residents and enticing some of those who’ve left back to the Island. El Nuevo Dia is ready to rely on implementation of current economic plans to stop the population drain.
Will that be enough?
Economist Lyman Stone ran a number of models to forecast Puerto Rico’s population under different sets of circumstances shortly after Hurricane Maria. He concluded that Puerto Rico’s low fertility rate (the lowest in the United States) and aging population are more of a threat than continued outmigration.
Bringing families back to Puerto Rico and encouraging a high quality of life as well as a strong business climate may be required.