Puerto Rico's Population Grows For First Time In 15 Years

Puerto Rico’s population increased in 2019 for the first time in nearly 15 years, according to a federal statistics report released Monday.

The United States territory of 3.2 million people experienced a slight population increase of 0.01%, or 340 inhabitants, from 2018 to 2019, according to the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics

The institute collaborates with the U.S. Census Bureau as part of the Federal State Cooperative for Population Estimates by providing necessary information related to Puerto Rico’s count.

Puerto Rico had seen a total population drop of more than 630,000 since its peak in 2004, as more people decided to migrate to the U.S. mainlandparticularly Florida ― amid an economic recession that weakened the island for more than a dozen years starting in 2006. In 2017, the island was more than $70 billion in debt and had an unemployment rate of about 10%, which was more than twice the national rate.

The exodus intensified when the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, disasters that left Puerto Rico with few resources, a high death toll and very little help from the Trump administration.

Puerto Rico’s government faced intense criticism from residents over its lack of transparency regarding the death toll from Maria, initially putting the number at 64 people. But a New York Times report from December 2017 said that 1,052 more people died across the island as a result of the hurricane, and a Harvard research study from June 2018 put the number even higher, at 4,645. The Puerto Rican government eventually acknowledged in August 2018 that 2,975 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The island saw a historic net migration loss last year after the Category 4 storm, with a 3.9% decline. About 123,000 more people left than moved to Puerto Rico from 2017 to 2018, compared with 78,000 the previous year, according to the Pew Research Center. The net migration loss in Puerto Rico didn’t pass 6,000 each year from 2000 to 2009.

Census projections from 2017 had estimated the island’s population would decline to less than 3 million by 2050, making the slight increase in Monday’s report a significant change.