I’ve been patiently waiting for the detailed “redistricting” Census files for Puerto Rico and they’ve finally arrived. Although the main story has been the population loss registered from 2000 to 2010 in the island as a whole (- 2.2%), the municipal-level figures provide a more complex landscape of the current population dynamics. I haven’t had a chance to examine the figures in greater detail, but I thought it would be a good idea to prepare a simple table that compares certain housing and population characteristics (see below).
As I write these lines, several well-known scholars from Puerto Rico are discussing the population loss issue at CNE’s annual economic conference. I’m looking forward to the activity’s proceedings and more debates on the matter since we still don’t know much about who left, where to, and why. What do folks out there think about this? If you left the island in search of other opportunities, like myself, I’d like to hear more about it.
Here’s a short list of the municipios that registered the highest rates of population loss, in ranked order (high to low):
- Las Marías
Ceiba’s population loss should not come as a big surprise given the numerous changes that the town has evidenced since the closing of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. Asides from Ponce, which is considered by some as the second capital of Puerto Rico, the municipios that made this short list are small towns that are not known for their economic prowess or as major tourist destinations. Nevertheless, Ponce’s population decline presents an interesting scenario. Over the past decades, numerous plans have been drafted (and somewhat executed) to jumpstart economic activity and raise the profile of the Ciudad Señorial. The most recent attempt has been the creation of the Port of the Americas, a transshipment cargo facility considered the centerpiece of the current administration’s economic development model. Planners and other government boosters argue that the project, which includes the creation of logistics and light manufacture value-added zones, will generate over 100,000 jobs. With such big plans and investments being made, why have so many people (over 20,000) moved away from this major town in the past decade? Surely there’s no simple answer to this query, but it provides an interesting puzzle for those who believe that you can build your way out of an economic crisis.
San Juan, the island’s capital city, also saw a decrease in the number of inhabitants. This is not entirely surprising as suburbanization trends continue to drive people away from the largest economic enclave and the most “urban” part of the island. But San Juan lost almost 40,000 residents in a decade. This is a big figure if we consider that most immigrants to the island from neighboring countries like the Dominican Republic, the English-speaking Antilles, and Cuba have established their enclaves in the capital city, where there is a high concentration of jobs in the services sectors. Perhaps the population loss is not as large since there is always an undercount of vulnerable populations, including migrants (both documented and not), the homeless and poor people, which are highly represented in San Juan. But the overall migration trend, as reported by the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute, indicates that the island saw a net out migration of 144,000 people in the last 5 years (2005-2009). Many of these movers might have been previous residents of San Juan, but this is an unfounded conjecture that can only be confirmed with more data.
More to come…