According to recent census data, Puerto Rico is facing a significant decrease in population. This is due to many reasons but has especially been exacerbated in the past few years due to natural disasters. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico has continued to struggle with natural disasters like flash floods and damaging earthquakes. These disasters are some of the main contributors to the bad electrical grid and managing of food and water, which in turn encourages people to leave Puerto Rico.
What’s even more concerning is the recent revelations showing that the previous census overcounted the population by 5.7%. While the Census Bureau promises to be more accurate in future counts, it is still important to recognize that the current problem is far worse than the numbers show.
This decrease in population could prove to be extremely detrimental to the Puerto Rican government. Fewer people mean there are fewer people paying taxes, and less money going towards the government. Along with the population loss, Puerto Rico’s average age is also rising. With fewer younger people being born, the population is disproportionately older, and the government has to spend a lot of money providing support for older and usually poorer citizens.
These economic burdens leave the government in a position where more people are leaving and the economy is growing far worse with no easy solution.
In addition to the impacts of natural disasters, people are also leaving because they find better employment opportunities elsewhere. Salaries in Puerto Rico for most jobs tend to be much lower than in the mainland United States. For example, the average salary for an electrician in Puerto Rico is 29% lower than the average in the US. This is not even the most extreme case, doctors in Puerto Rico earn less than half the hourly wage that doctors in the US get.
Locals worry about the deteriorating healthcare system and policies that don’t fit the current demographic. Dr. Luis Pericchi noted with concern that a lack of workers could have a significant impact on Puerto Rico’s economy. Pericchi stresses that action needs to be taken soon, or the situation will just get worse.