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Census Bureau: Puerto Rico outmigration slows down

By on September 19, 2020

A view of a neighborhood in Bayamón during a helicopter tour to view damage from 2017 Hurricane Maria, January 2018. (FEMA/K.C. Wilsey)

Some 35,000 people left for states last year, 69% fewer than the 113,000 in 2018

SAN JUAN – While the number of people who moved from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland last year continued to be greater than that of those moving from the states to the island, this exodus slowed down to its lowest level in a decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 Puerto Rico Community Survey 

The survey estimated that 66,021 people in Puerto Rico left for the states in 2019, while 31,144 people stateside moved to the island, for a net outmigration of 34,877 people, or 69 percent fewer than the outmigration of 113,000 in 2018, which was a record for the decade. 

The 31,144 people who arrived in the island from “other U.S. jurisdictions” last year was 49 percent more than the 20,900 people who did so in 2018. 

The survey data were released by the PRSI, which manages such information locally. 

Despite the lower net outmigration, the about 35,000 people who left Puerto Rico constitutes a 1 percent drop in the island’s population in a single year, reflecting a still very high outmigration rate, “which has been the drastic trend throughout the decade of 2010-2020,” Alberto L. Velázquez‐Estrada, the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute’s (PRSI) statistics projects manager, told Caribbean Business. 

Velázquez‐Estrada said that 2018 was “an atypical year,” given that the record-breaking outmigration was the result of the dire local conditions that developed in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, which destroyed the island’s electrical grid, resulting in extensive outages that lasted many months, leading to thousands of deaths. 

In 2018, Puerto Rico’s economy was lifted by the influx of hundreds of millions of dollars in post-hurricane federal aid for emergency repairs, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) $1.2 billion “Tu Hogar Renace” (Your Home Reborn) home repair program, which ended in early 2019. 

The Census Bureau’s Puerto Rico Community Survey gauged this economic uptick, noting that the island’s unemployment rate fell from 15.1 percent in 2018 to 14.1 percent last year. The civilian employed population grew by more than 39,000, from 1,004,429 in 2018 to 1,043,560 last year, while the number of unemployed dropped from 178,219 to 171,370 during the same period. 

Puerto Rico’s population stood at 3,193,694 last year, down slightly from 3,195,153 in 2018, according to the survey, which states that the island’s population decreased by about 143,483, or 4.3 percent, since 2017, when the population was of 3,337,177. Women constituted the majority of the island’s population in 2019, at 52.5 percent. 

“We expected the emigration to drop and then stabilize given that there were no other natural events that affected us. Many people who moved to the states found jobs and stayed there, while others just sought temporary shelter there until they could fix things on the island and then come back,” Velázquez‐Estrada said. 

The island’s net outmigration of 35,000 people to the U.S. mainland last year was the lowest since 2010, when the net outmigration was of 28,000 people, according to the bureau, which notes that net outmigration to the states totaled 749,000 people between 2005 and 2019. 

The net outmigration was about 54,000 in 2011 and 2012; 49,000 in 2013; 64,000 in 2014 and 2015; 67,000 in 2016; and 77,000 in 2017, according to the survey. 

On the job 

The same survey noted an upward trend in people working from home in Puerto Rico, even before the disruption of the workplace caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the survey, 24,892 people worked from home last year, up 11.2 percent from the 22,390 who did so in 2018. 

Nonetheless, the survey noted that the number of people driving to work on the island rose by 4.2 percent, from 903,299 in 2018 to 941,007 in 2019. Among employees 16 years and older who commuted to work, 84.3 percent drove alone to work, while 7.7 percent carpooled. Another 2.8 percent walked to work, and only 1.2 percent used public transportation, according to the survey, which noted that the mean travel time to work dipped from 30.3 minutes in 2018 to 29.8 minutes last year. 

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