Puerto Rico population estimated to grow for first time since 2004


The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that Puerto Rico’s population grew in fiscal year 2019, the first such increase since 2004.

The bureau said the population was about 3,193,694 on July 1, about 0.01% more than the total for July 1, 2018. By comparison, Puerto Rico’s population was 3.83 million in July 1, 2004, according to the bureau.

Pedestrians in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The commonwealth’s estimated population increased in 2019, the Census Bureau said.

Bloomberg News

The bureau’s estimate for July 1 is 2.6% more than the board predicted for the date in its May 2019 fiscal plan.

“Post-[Hurricane] Maria return migration was so strong between July 2018 and June 2019 that it apparently broke the historical downward trend in population,” said Mario Marazzi, economist and former executive director of the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics. “The social and demographic forces behind this trend remain firmly in place. So the pause in the reduction will likely prove to be short-lived.”

Net migration to Puerto Rico in fiscal year 2019, which ended on June 30, 2019, was 7,733. This compares to net departures of 123,399 in the preceding fiscal year.

There were 7,395 more deaths than births on the island in fiscal 2019, according to the bureau. Economist Gustavo Vélez said that the bureau’s figures for births and deaths are reliable. Vélez is chairman of Puerto Rico consultant Inteligencia Económica.

Puerto Rico’s economic conditions have been the prime force affectingmigration over the last 100 years, Vélez said. There was positive economic growth after the hurricane and this led some to return, with net migration probably flowing to the island starting around July 2018.

“These figures tend to validate the view that an improvement in the economy can slow or even reverse the population decline,” said Juan Lara, chief economist at Puerto Rico consultant Advantage Business Consulting. “Overall, 2019 was the best year for the economy in a long time, producing the first annual gain in total jobs in many years. Sadly, this is unlikely to be repeated in 2020, so we don’t expect to see another rise in population, albeit small, in the near term.”

José Villamil, chairman of Puerto Rico consultant Estudios Técnicos, said, “Our estimate in the firm is that by 2025 the population should be 3.0 million. That would mean a net migration of some 25,000 per year from 2019. It may be a bit pessimistic, particularly if the 2020 Census corroborates the 2019 estimate.”

Vélez said Puerto Rico’s economy had slowed since early July. He said he was still working on predictions for 2020 but that he thought a growth rate of 1.5% to 2% in the year would be a best-case scenario.

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