Thursday, March 22, 2018

Puerto Rico lost 6% of its population after Hurricane Maria

By on March 9, 2018

SAN JUAN – Data collected through research conducted by the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute (SI) after the devastating 2017 season of hurricanes, showed the different points of tension in the island’s economy that could be the engine for a significant percentage of residents who have migrated stateside, Mario Marazzi, the independent agency’s executive director, said during his talk at the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce’s 17th Health and Insurance Conference.

Marazzi assured that health services are of great importance when residents decide whether to remain on the island. He explained that the data collected indicate that medical services in Puerto Rico, despite being much less expensive than stateside, have serious deficiencies as a result of low system funding flow.

“The health sector, for example, is the cheapest in the entire United States. That means that the cost of providing these services in Puerto Rico for someone who does not have health insurance is, on average, almost 40% lower than the average for the United States,” SI’s executive director said.

“That’s an important point. Our health sector is very competitive in terms of providing services at a very low cost, but it may reflect a sector of health that is very illiquid. Maybe we need to obtain a little more money to put in it,” he added.

Statistics Institute Executive Director Mario Marazzi (File photo)

According to the data presented, the portfolio of insurers of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) shows there are 175,000 insured on the island through the Public Employees Health Benefits Law (Act 95); some 246,000 citizens enrolled in Medicare Platinum plan, who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid; and 1.2 million patients who receive their medical services through the Mi Salud government-sponsored plan.

In addition, a comparison between the cost of living in the San Juan, Carolina and Caguas area, and several stateside cities and states showed that the cost of living in southern and mid-western states is much lower than on the island; therefore, states such as Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Wisconsin are favored by the migratory wave of Puerto Ricans.

Marazzi also revealed data on the number of people who left the island during the months after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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“An increase in migration is clearly seen in the month of September of 2017 when we lost 40,000 residents, but in October that number rose to almost 100,000, then fell again in November to an estimated 45,000 people. We still don’t have the data for the month of December, which could very well reflect an increase in the number of people who left the island, as it could also show a decrease. It’s too early to know,” he said.

“If we add the data collected from the months of September, October and November, we are talking about some 184,000 people who left the island. That means that Puerto Rico lost 6% of the population in a period of three months,” he added.

The institute director also noted that the new fiscal plan to be presented by the government to the island’s fiscal oversight board indicates that the island’s population will decrease by 7.7% during this fiscal year, which means a quarter of a million people migrating from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland.

“In three months we saw negative 184,000 people; however, to reach a critical figure this number should be negative 250,000, which we really aren’t far from that, but if we look at the numbers we have for the current five months of the last fiscal year, including the months of July and August of 2017, we would see we are close to that figure, with negative 210,000 people,” Marazzi said.

“The question is, once the resources of these immigrants are exhausted, what will they do? Will they stay there or will they return to Puerto Rico?” he added.

Marazzi stressed that to attract the population that left, Puerto Rico must send a clear and strong message that it is really open for business. In addition, it must show recovery in essential services such as electric power so companies recover from the blow received. In his opinion, the population simply will not return to the island if that message is not transmitted.

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As for jobs, the Statistics Institute revealed data that reflect 850,000 fewer jobs in October. However, Marazzi said that number could be a product of the conditions experienced in Puerto Rico during that month, after the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.”Certainly, there were many companies that did not operate during this month, so the data could reflect something real or maybe it is something methodological. Maybe those businesses were operating but due to the lack of electricity and communications, they could not transmit information and participate in our survey,” he explained.

Marazzi said all these questions about the island’s state after the hurricane will be answered as new data are collected.