Five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island is dealing with the damage of another destructive storm.
Hurricane Fiona slammed into the US territory on Monday, killing four people, triggering mudslides and crushing bridges as it displaced more than a thousand and left more than a million residents without power.
Some wonder if the storm will trigger the kind of exodus seen after Hurricane Maria. As a result of this hurricane, more than 123,000 Puerto Ricans moved permanently to the states of the United States, especially New York and Florida, according to estimates of the United States Census Bureau.
And according to a new USA Today analysis of 2020 census results, all of them municipality— Puerto Rico’s equivalent of a county — lost population after Maria compared to the 2010 census.
Why do Puerto Ricans leave the island?
The island’s numbers have actually been declining since the U.S. territory reached its population peak in 2004, according to a Pew Research Center study, falling to about 3.2 million in 2018. Economic conditions there, especially a recession in the mid-2000s, the effects of which still linger. – have been evicting people from the island long before Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in September 2017.
Some have left more recently, frustrated by what they see as the continued failure of local government to deal with the aftermath.
Marla Perez-Lugo, born in Santurce and raised in Mayaguez, left Puerto Rico last year. Formerly co-director of the National Institute of Energy and Sustainability Island of Puerto Rico, she now works as a professor of sociology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“What made me leave was the helplessness of not being able to contribute to the recovery and reconstruction of my island,” he said.
Previously reported census data showed nearly 440,000 fewer residents in Puerto Rico over the past decade, a loss of about 12 percent of the population. During this period, most of the island municipalities they saw losses in excess of 10% and almost all lost more than 1,000 inhabitants.
Will Puerto Ricans leave the island again?
Elizabeth Aranda, a professor of sociology at the University of South Florida, said she assumed the storm will be a catalyst for anyone already thinking about leaving Puerto Rico.
“It depends on how quickly power and water can be restored, and how quickly children can go back to school and people back to work,” he said.
Those who are more dependent on electricity, such as those with chronic illnesses or disabilities, may have a harder time surviving without electricity, he said, and will be more likely to leave.
Fernando Rivera, a professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, agreed.
“As the days without power and water lengthen along with rising temperatures and the potential for other rain events, there is a high likelihood that people with family and friends in New York or Florida will come to the States United to find some relief, especially those dealing with health problems,” he said.
Alexandra Lúgaro, 41, executive director of the Puerto Rico Foundation’s Center for Strategic Innovation and a former gubernatorial candidate, said some may leave for specific reasons, such as those bringing elderly relatives to the mainland for hospital care .
But he doesn’t think this hurricane will cause another wave of permanent migration.
“It’s different from Maria,” Lúgaro said. “Because of its winds, you could see everything torn down. A lot of people couldn’t see how it could be rebuilt.”
Fiona’s water damage doesn’t look so daunting, he said.
“On the contrary, I think there’s a lot of motivation to say, ‘Let’s dry this up.’ let’s fix it Let’s help the people who lost everything,’” Lúgaro said. “I don’t see Maria’s state of mind of, ‘I need to get out of Puerto Rico, because there’s no way to rebuild.'”
What will happen next in Puerto Rico?
For Puerto Rico, Fiona is the latest in a long series of crises. After hurricanes Irma and Maria, a wave of earthquakes shook the island in 2019 and 2020; then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My guess is that the Puerto Rican people are tired and there is growing dissatisfaction, even anger, toward the government for not doing more since Hurricane Maria,” Aranda said. “Those who have the means to leave and want to, will in fact leave. But this is nothing new. Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island for decades.”
As with Hurricane Maria, some displacement may only be temporary while people await recovery efforts. But if most of the migration persists, Rivera said, that would hamper the territory’s ability to recover from past economic struggles and meet public debt obligations, especially those set by Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board. .
“Time is of the essence to restore basic services and build confidence that the island can move forward,” he said. “The Central Florida diaspora is already gearing up to help those on the island and those who choose to come here.”
There are already more Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States than on the island itself. According to the Pew Center, the number of Puerto Ricans living in the states increased from 3.4 million to 5.6 million from 2000 to 2017.
What does Puerto Rican migration mean for the US?
In a 2020 study in Orlando, Florida, researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that the influx from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria boosted overall employment, boosting employment in construction in particular 4%.
“We found that the influx of Puerto Ricans into Orlando after Maria helped grow the economy, particularly sectors such as retail and hospitality, as these people increased demand for local services and soon they employed,” said economics professor Giovanni Peri, lead author of the study. to study.
Among the factors behind the group’s successful absorption, Peri said, were their legal employment status and a welcoming community that easily connected them to employment opportunities in a growing local economy.
He said those factors are back in place now, if not more, given the current labor shortage in Florida’s economy and unfilled jobs in the hospitality and construction sectors.
“If people from Puerto Rico go to some of the same places, it can have an even stronger effect on stimulating the local economy and finding jobs,” Peri said.