One of the sad consequences of Puerto Rico’s economic crisis has been the migration of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland. Unfortunately, Hurricane Maria’s destruction of the island’s infrastructure will probably intensify this trend, which will further weaken the territory’s tax base and increase its ‘brain drain’.
How many people have left Puerto Rico in the last weeks? On October 13, 2017, NPR reported that more than 27,000 have traveled to Florida. A more recent story published in Bloomberg estimates that the number of Puerto Ricans who have relocated to Florida is around 73,000. Puerto Ricans have also resettled in the Northeast, though at a smaller rate.
In a few months, we will be able to gauge the migration of Puerto Ricans after the storm using data on air passenger travel to and from Puerto Rico. These figures are collected by the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico on a monthly basis.
The graph above shows that since 2007 on average outbound travel is higher than inbound travel, though the gap starts to dramatically increase after 2009. From July 2008 to June 2017, an estimated 48,700,000 passengers flew to Puerto Rico, while around 49,392,000 flew out of the island. These figures do not imply that an estimated 692,000 Puerto Ricans moved to the mainland in this time period, but it does suggest that many thousands did and it corroborates studies that find that over 400,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to the U.S. mainland in the last decade.
How many more Puerto Ricans will move to the mainland after this hurricane season? Will they return home once things start to improve in the island? Only time will tell.
For the last weeks, the U.S. and Puerto Rican media have reported about Tesla’s interest in transforming Puerto Rico’s electrical system, following the passing of Hurricane Maria. Earlier this week, El Hospital del Niño announced that Tesla installed a system of solar panels and batteries which will supply all of the hospital’s electricity needs. While Tesla notes that this is the first of many projects, it will not be easy to move Puerto Rico’s electrical system away from its dependence on fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.
Using 2016 data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the chart notes that only 2% of Puerto Rico’s electricity is generated using renewable sources. Puerto Rico’s dependence on petroleum, natural gas, and coal are not only problematic from an environmental perspective, but reliance on these sources makes electricity more expensive.
To put Puerto Rico’s figures in perspective, let’s look at how Puerto Rico compares to the United States and its Caribbean neighbors.
The story is different in the most populous countries in the Caribbean Basin. The graph below shows that most of these economies are dependent on fossil fuels, especially petroleum-based products. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are the most diversified in terms of energy sources. But, the graph also shows that Puerto Rico produces the smallest amount of electricity from renewable sources.
Does it make sense to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical system to pre-Maria standards? While Tesla and other companies may want to transform the island’s grid, at this moment the Federal Management Emergency Administration’s (FEMA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) goal is to reconstruct the old system.
This is a missed an opportunity and as Ramon Cruz and Judith Enck note in a recent op-ed, Congress could actually intervene, asking FEMA, which is financing the recovery efforts, to order PREPA and the Puerto Rican government to use federal funds to invest in new technologies that can increase the amount of electricity produced by renewable sources of energy. This will not only cut Puerto Rico’s dependence on fossil fuels, which have to be shipped to to the island, but it will help the island a more resilient grid that will lower electricity prices for the island’s residents.
The United States, including its territories in the Caribbean, has been affected by three major hurricanes this season. The graph above shows that Google users in the United States paid closer attention to Hurricane Irma than to Hurricanes Harvey or Maria. Data for this graph was collected using Google Trends.
It is not surprising that Hurricane Irma received the most attention. Once the world’s media reported on Barbuda’s and St. Martin’s destruction after Irma’s passing, people in the Caribbean and the U.S. Southeast started to take the hurricane very seriously. Hurricane Irma’s eye wall spared most of Puerto Rico, but Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. Virgin Islands were not as lucky.
Although Hurricane Maria was likely the most destructive of the three storms, Irma affected the most people, followed by Harvey. Given that Google Trends counts the amount of searches Google users make, it seems logical that the hurricane that affects the most people is also the one that receives the most attention.
Could another reason explain the differences between Google users’ interest? What about the U.S. media’s interest? Did media’s coverage of these three hurricane mirror Google searches? We will explore this in another post. What do you think? Feel free to share your views.
On October 18, 2017, President Donald Trump met with Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rossello, to discuss the island’s recovery efforts after Hurricanes Irma and Maria pummeled the island . Shortly after the meeting, they took questions from reporters. One of these reporters asked President Trump to use a 10 point scale to rate the White House’s response to Puerto Rico’s woes.
Although Governor Rossello’s comments made it clear that the island was facing a serious humanitarian catastrophe and that Puerto Rico needed even more federal resources, the President gave the federal government’s efforts a perfect 10 out of 10.
Do Americans agree with President’s Trump’s score? Since Hurricane Harvey swept through Texas and Louisiana, many opinion polls have been asking Americans what they think of President Trump’s or the federal government’s disaster relief efforts. The most recent FoxNews poll, conducted on 22-24 October 2017, did not ask respondents whether or not they agreed with President’s Trump’s evaluation. It it did however ask them to “rate the Trump administration’s response to recent hurricanes” in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston.
As noted in the graph below, the Trump administration earned higher marks for its response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma than Hurricane Maria.
The next graph breaks down these numbers along respondents’ political leanings. Rather than looking at the response to Houston or Florida, let’s focus on their opinions of the Trump administration’s handling of the situation in Puerto Rico.
In conclusion, it is clear that a majority of Americans believe that the Trump administration’s reactions to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are far from perfect. But partisanship does play role in how Americans rate the government’s efforts.
This short analysis raises three questions:
- If Trump’s supporters give the Trump administration a more positive rating, are they be willing to increase disaster relief spending for Puerto Rico? Experts believe that it will cost between $45-$95 billion to rebuild the island.
- How stable are Americans’ opinions? In other words, have Americans’ opinion fluctuated from early October when the U.S. media paid close attention to Puerto Rico’s post-Maria challenges? Similarly, will American opinion change as as the situation in the island receives less media coverage?
- Finally, how do Puerto Ricans living in the mainland rate the Trump administration’s efforts? How does their opinions compare to other Latinos’ and Latinas’ views of the situation?
We will answer some of these questions in upcoming posts. But for now, what do you think of the Trump administration’s efforts? Do you agree with President Trump’s rating or are you more critical? Let us know.
According to the Puerto Rican government’s data, 35 days after Maria, only 25% of the island’s customers have electricity. Although Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, the government hopes to deliver electricity to 30% of its customers by the end of October. Ultimately, Governor Rossello wants to restore power to 95% of the island’s residents by December 15.
While it seems possible that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will meet the short-term goal, El Nuevo Dia – the island’s largest newspaper – recently reported that Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the USACE, thinks that Governor Rossello’s assessment of the situation is overly optimistic. He explained that most of Puerto Rico’s customers will have their power restored in February of next year and he hopes that electricity will be fully restored before May.