Almost 200,000 have left Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria
The residents of Puerto Rico have continued to leave the US territory in large numbers in the twelve months since Hurricane Maria devastated the islands. An estimated 198,000 people have left the Caribbean islands as the pace of the recovery and reconstruction languished, according to figures calculated by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.
“This rate of emigration from Puerto Rico is unprecedented in Puerto Rican history,” said Dr. Edwin Meléndez, director of the center and professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College. “It is an indication of stagnant conditions on the islands and the impatience of the population with the governmental response at all levels,” he added.
A notable aspect of this trend is the number of families with children leaving the islands. The Puerto Rico Department of Education reports that approximately 39,000 fewer students registered in the territory’s public schools in fall 2018 than in the prior school year. These figures allow researchers at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies to estimate the number of school-aged emigrants in the Puerto Rican migration stream. This enrollment decline represents an additional 13,000 students beyond those who left in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane—there were 26,000 fewer students enrolled in January 2018 than in August 2017. These data indicate the added pressure the hurricane and its aftermath have placed on Puerto Rican families, pushing many who might not have otherwise contemplated emigrating to leave.
“The trend of increased migration from the islands to the United States was in place before the storm,” said Dr. Meléndez. “The hurricane, however, has magnified the dire circumstances on the island, accelerating the pace of that migration and pushing even more families to leave.”
Puerto Ricans who emigrate from islands continue to relocate primarily to the southern United States—particularly Florida—along with the northeast states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. “These states are serving as gateways for Puerto Rican migrants from the Caribbean,” said Dr. Meléndez. “But we are also seeing increased dispersal throughout the United States after those migrants arrive at their initial destinations.”