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.