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.