Economist Lyman Stone has a first estimate for the effect of Hurricane Maria on the population of Puerto Rico. Many of the numbers we’ve seen so far have been based on the number of people arriving in the states from Puerto Rico. Others are based on school enrollment. Neither of these numbers can provide an accurate count.

Net migration

Lyman Stone looks at the net migration. That is, he’s including both arrivals and departures.

“So what we know now is that net displacement in the immediate aftermath Hurricanes Irma and Maria (impossible to separate the two in the time series) is at least 135,000 people.”

People were already leaving Puerto Rico in large numbers before the hurricanes, he points out.

Between 1050 and 1955, 237,000 people moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S. From 2010 to 2015, 263,000 left Puerto Rico for a state. That’s more than 200 people per day.

But Stone’s data suggests that those numbers were actually beginning to improve in 2017. “And then… BAM, Hurricanes Irma and Maria slam through the Caribbean.” At this point, at least 135,000 people leave Puerto Rico.

“November data and international data will probably blow that number up to 150,000 or more, possibly as high as 200,000.”

Those numbers are still less than the 300,000 some estimates are claiming.

Who will stay and who will return?

“As of now,” says Stone, “the big ‘known unknown’ is what the return rate will be.” Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, estimates suggested that about 53% of displaced residents had returned to New Orleans. The population of New Orleans was about 80% of what it had been before the hurricane. Will Puerto Rico see similar rates of regrowth?

For Puerto Rico, already seeing population decline, stabilizing and increasing the population is essential for economic growth. Economic growth is essential for Puerto Rico’s future.

Puerto Rico’s future should be a picture of the 51st state, Puerto Rico, welcoming tourists and new residents from the other states. The 51st state, welcoming home people who left Puerto Rico and always dreamed of going home. The 51st state, welcoming people with  vision of growth for the Island. Join us in moving toward this vision.



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