Puerto Rico population declines less than projected

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Puerto Rico’s population declined less than either the Puerto Rico Oversight Board or the governor had projected from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018.

On Thursday the U.S. Census Bureau put the population on July 1, 2018, at 3,195,153, down 3.9% from a year earlier.

The board in its latest approved fiscal plan and the governor in his latest proposed fiscal plan had projected that the fiscal year, which included two major hurricanes in the late summer of 2017, would suffer a 5.06% population decline.

The Census estimates that the island’s population is down 14.2% since 2010.

The declines come as the commonwealth since 2006 has mainly experienced economic contraction. Since spring 2017 the commonwealth’s government has been seeking to restructure parts of its government debt.

“Of course, any population decline is bad from an economic recovery point of view,” said Howard Cure, director of municipal research at Evercore. “Obviously, a smaller decline is better but still is a decline.

“My larger concern revolves around who is leaving the commonwealth. Many professionals in the health and education areas, for instance, are in great demand on the mainland as many are bilingual. The worry is that middle- and upper-class professionals are leaving the island and would have a disproportionately negative impact on the commonwealth’s economy and recovery.”

Moody’s Investors Service vice president Genevieve Nolan said, “The U.S. Census estimate reflects the continued pace of accelerated population loss over the last five years, highlighting the social and economic challenges still facing the commonwealth, especially in the wake of Hurricane Maria.”

In the board’s October-approved fiscal plan it said that a weak economy has been a factor in the island’s population loss since 2010 and that its rapidly aging population is a factor in projections for further contractions. “In the long term, the population is projected to continue to decline, but at a rate closer to pre-hurricane trends [of 1 to 2% per year] (leveling off at ~0.8-1.2% decline annually by fiscal year 2035).”

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