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P.R. population not displaced by hurricanes for now — It’s the economy, study says

People invested in Puerto Rico’s long-term disaster recovery efforts face many obstacles, including — but not limited to — debt, recession, stronger hurricanes, utilities, and sovereignty.

All these challenges require robust, independent, and trustworthy socio-economic data to lay the foundation for successful private investment and public policy, according to a paper written by a team of prominent local and stateside experts in analysis, the economy and demography.

The four social scientists — Matt Kaneshiro, senior manager, predictive analytics, Customer Analytics LLC, Madison, WI.; Collin McCarter, data scientist and demographer, Nielsen LLC, Tampa; Mario Marazzi-Santiago, independent researcher based in San Juan; and, Alexis R. Santos-Lozada, assistant professor of HDFS and Demography, Pennsylvania State University — concluded that natural disasters disrupt established data sources and create a pressured
environment for analysts to implement untested assumptions in forecasting models to produce a timely result for stakeholders.

“Having analyzed net migration flows out of Puerto Rico before and after the 2017 hurricane season, we conclude that Puerto Rico’s out-migration is driven by long-term declining economic conditions as opposed to population displacement induced by Hurricane María,” the authors said.

“In fact, dire population projections based on overstated Hurricane María impacts will limit Puerto Rico’s ability to access credit for recovery efforts and begin addressing the many underlying economic issues,” they said.

“Overstating disaster impacts on population projections ultimately delays recovery, adds confusion, and could contribute to the acceleration of population decline,” they added.

In September 2017, Hurricane María made landfall on Puerto Rico and caused $102 billion worth of damage, demolishing the electric grid and severely impacting essential daily services that are still ongoing.

Still, the authors explained that Puerto Ricans are not being displaced by the 2017 hurricanes, but rather by the struggling economy, “and any serious plans for Puerto Rico’s restoration must include special attention to stimulating the economy.”

In the study, they concluded that “there is a delicate mix of optimism and pessimism to consider regarding the restoration of Puerto Rico.”

“On the one hand, the population displacement observed following Hurricane Maria has partially reversed as residents return to the island. Returning, existing, and prospective residents are now depending on a successful economic recovery that will likely require appropriate federal funding for reconstruction efforts,” the paper’s authors stated.

Author Details
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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.


  1. Buck March 21, 2019

    I came to PR because of widely advertised tax benefit legislation [supposed to bring guys like me to invest] but it was illusory, almost as soon as I arrived. By one example, they unilaterally changed the rules [without notice] to require not less but more/prepaid tax (regardless of income or loss). Utility costs are absurd and 7 months w/o any after Maria was even more telling. It was impossible to find a neighborhood that was not declining and I now thank God that bad agents made it impossible to buy a home [another newly changed rule]. I bought a car that I am still trying to sell due to agents working against my interests, for their own unjust gain. I wasted 4 years of my life due to the culture of “bait and switch” fraud that is endemic in the social fabric. The folks are selfish and lazy. I conclude their constant ‘kissing-up’ is akin to a song from the 60’s: “Smiling Faces” (sometimes pretend to be your friend).

    1. Alexis R. Santos March 21, 2019

      Hello Buck,

      I’m so sad to hear this. As one of the coauthors of the report, I think cases like this are part of the “Its the economy”. If there is instability in the legislation, which we can agree or disagree nobody can plan long-term. For example, constant changes in legislation can bring mistrust to any potential business endeavor. It saddens me that you are describing and I assure you the people of Puerto Rico are not like that, we are hardworking and do the best we can. However, the system allows for these situations to happen; also as a result of economic instability.

      Best of luck,

      Alexis Santos, PhD

    2. Angel Rodriguez June 8, 2019

      I have live here all my life despite the fact that I AM NOT PUERTORICAN. I know behaviour here very well. The locals, the commoners are honest hard working people, however the island is ruled by mafia like bosses. If I were you, before to invest here I will checked the local statistic. How put your money in a wellfare federal funding dependind state???? Poverty rate over 50%. Do you know the Superman Bizarro World, it is here in this Island Lost at the Edge of the Bermuda Triangle. I am a sociologist here Angel Rodriguez

  2. Patricia Bombelyn March 23, 2019

    I’d like to be able to read the report. I think islanders are pretty resilient and adaptive – and experience of Buck illustrates that – the conduct complained of is symptomatic of the exploitation that is colonialism and denial of self determination. Certainly I think sovereignty should be high on your list – and the debt should be forgiven as ‘odious’ debt and the responsibility of the colonizing govt – the USA.

    1. Angel Rodriguez June 8, 2019

      Remember that the island is run by Mafia like bosses under the sponsor of the Langley Boys and the Hoovert Kids. Sincerely Angel

  3. Are you serious? March 29, 2019

    This is not, in any way, a study. It has a plot of trends and claims things that it cannot claim. You cannot make a causal claim (the economy is driving away population) and a comparison (natural disasters compared to the economy) without a single statistical test or a causal model.

    This is a joke. The plot shows the number of people employed follows the number of people on the island. These “researchers” do not even control for population or changing age structure. Guess what, genius? If there are fewer people on the island, there will be fewer people employed EVEN IF THE EMPLOYMENT RATE IS THE SAME.

    1. Alexis R. Santos April 4, 2019


      This is a study, whether or not you wish to accept it is another thing. We are describing patterns, the simplicity of this method is what allows us to look at this in the first place. If you see the plots, and the appended materials of the GDP you can see that when the economic growth and employment went down there was the onset of growth (in population) deceleration; then the number fell for the first time the population started falling shortly after.

      There is no need to do a statistical test to describe a pattern, what kind of test do you want? I am sure it will reinforce our claims, not disprove them. Some are so fixated with p-values, statistical tests or causal models but fail to appreciate simpler methods. Oftentimes, a simple correlation is more meaningful than a highly specified model. This report has been received well by experts in the demography of Puerto Rico. Since you have decided to answer without stating who you are or what is your motive I cannot spend too much time evaluating whether there is some validity to your claim or if you are being an objective evaluator.

      This is not a joke, the joke is trying to disprove a well written report anonymously through a post in one of the media that has decided to cover us. Please read paragraph one for more details on why you are wrong (or read the report).

      I fail to see what is the problem with our report that merits us the ” ” around our researcher titled. Because we are not modeling anything we don’t need to control for it. You may argue that presenting employment rates would be a more acceptable metric, and I may buy that, but that’s another rabbits hole.

      Regarding age-structure, you need to do a little research before writing like this. The demographic characteristics of those leaving the island is that of a fleeing young labor force. If we control for population/age-structure then the issue would be that the rate would get artificially inflated. For example, if you have 2 persons employed out of 10 that’s a 0.20 employment rate. If 2 unemployed persons leave during that year and nothing else changes you would end up with 2 out of 8 persons working; you will then falsely claim the employment went up because the employment rate is 0.25.

      I am not a genius, I am a person interested in helping Puerto Rico with sound statistical analysis, not with the statistical magic that others are using.

      You have my e-mail, feel free to reach out anytime.


      Alexis R. Santos, “Researcher”

      1. Angel Rodriguez June 8, 2019

        Alexis: Ustedes descubrieron el Mediteraneo o inventaron la rueda. Lo que ustedes descxriben era predecible desde los 70’s. Lo que describen lo vivo yo hace muchisimo tiempo y lo vivo ahora. Pero lo que pasa es que yo he vivido procesos que tu desconoces y se estan dando procesos muy sutiles ahora que sus efectos se veran luego. Lee las estadisticas publicadas por el llamado Departamento del Trabajo publicadas ayer. Eso indica mucho, muchisimo y donde los planificadores actuales tienen sus mentes. recuerda que aqui cualquiera que sea hijo de fulano sabe de todo, planifica, dirige y manda, aunque sea un becerro. Mientras mas fondos federales lleguen, mas dinero en caja cobrado por Hacienda tengo para robar. Pero yo no te voy a dar clase…………Angel Rodriguez Ph.D.

  4. Angel Rodriguez June 8, 2019

    Remember that the island is run by MafiaCosa Nostra like bosses under the sponsor of the Langley Boys and the Hoovert Kids. Sincerely Angel


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