Puerto Rico’s Population Declines in Aftermath of Financial Crisis, Natural Disasters

In San Juan, the population fell by 2.2% while Rincon, a surfing and tourism hotspot, saw growth over a two-year period

A beach in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
By Jim Wyss
March 31, 2023 | 09:22 AM

Bloomberg — Puerto Rico’s population shrank 2% from 2020 to 2022, with the steepest declines taking place in southern municipalities that have been buffeted by a hurricane and earthquakes, according to US Census Bureau estimates published Thursday.

“Puerto Rico’s population continues to decline, with all 78 municipios experiencing population loss in 2022,” the Census Bureau said in a press release accompanying the data. “The drop in population is largely a result of natural decrease, as all municipios had more deaths than births and negative net migration.”

The decrease, from 3.29 million in April 2020 to 3.22 million as of July 2022, follows a 12% decline registered in the US territory over the prior 10 years amid a grinding financial crisis and a series of natural disasters.

In the capital of San Juan, population fell by 2.2%. Only the western jurisdiction of Rincon, a surfing and tourism hotspot, saw growth over the two-year period.

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The latest figures only underscore the demographic decline that has gripped the island for decades and the urgent need for a new economic development model, said Pedro Reina-Perez, a historian and political analyst at the University of Puerto Rico.

As the territory’s government and power utility emerge from a record-setting bankruptcy, it’s also increasingly clear there will be fewer people on the island to bear the weight of repaying billions to bondholders.

“Everyone is working under the assumption that there will be people around for the next forty years to repay the debt,” Reina-Perez said. “But these numbers are challenging those assumptions.”

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