It’s been hard to get a grip on how severe the Puerto Rican population outflow has been in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s destruction of the island, but Facebook may give us a clue:
Hurricane Maria sent Puerto Ricans fleeing from the island to the U.S. mainland, but population surveys to assess the size of that migration would have taken at least a year to complete. A new study suggests, however, that a Facebook tool for advertisers could provide crude, real-time estimates for how many people are moving because of a natural disaster. That could help governments design policies to assist those displaced people.
The Facebook data revealed that, from October 2017 to January 2018, the Puerto Rican population on the mainland increased by some 17 percent, or about 185,200 residents. That would imply a 5.6 percent decrease in the population living the U.S. Caribbean territory.
Almost a third of those migrants, or about 65,400 people, went to Florida, the data suggest. Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts each also received about 8,000 to around 15,000 new migrants from Puerto Rico. About 19,500 Puerto Ricans appear to have returned home from January to March 2018, researchers report April 11 in Austin, Texas, at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America.
Overall, the migration estimate is in line with the official estimate of 159,415 Puerto Ricans having relocated to the mainland one year after the hurricane.
It’s important to keep track of where these people are going, because it impacts the vote. The Puerto Rico vote was a major focus of Rick Scott’s senatorial campaign, and they will undoubtedly come into focus again in 2020, when the Democrats try to organize them to vote against Trump.