Dueling Numbers on Puerto Rican Migration

Dueling signs, dueling numbers – The number of Puerto Rican migrants to Florida since the hurricanes hit seems impossibly high. /Maria Padilla

Dueling numbers on Puerto Rican migration since the hurricanes hit have generated questions about the actual numbers who have landed in Florida.

Puerto Rican evacuees in Florida have surpassed the 200,000 mark, according to Gov. Rick Scott’s office in a press release dated November 29 that cites the number of arrivees since October 3. But the figures beg for more scrutiny and explanation of – not because things are markedly better in Puerto Rico. They are not. Electric power is still an on-and-off thing, as is water, and many schools remain closed. Not because it’s impossible for so many people to have left on a jet plane. It is not.

In fact, the Puerto Rican migration hit historic highs even before the twin hurricanes of Irma and María set the island back 30 years, with about 500,000 leaving since the Great Recession, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York.

The migration numbers require closer inspection because they seem impossibly high. While it is true the Florida is seeing an influx of Puerto Ricans post Hurricane María, is it likely that over 200,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida in just two months?  The state estimates do not compute with other forecasts, such as by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.

Of course, “real” numbers won’t be available until the census counts head by head, nose by nose, an exercise that is over two years away.  Let’s do some adding and subtracting for argument’s sake.

Nearly 5,000 People a Day

If it’s true that 200,000 Puerto Ricans have come to Florida between October 3 to November 29, that would make for 4,762 people per day passing through Miami and Orlando airports plus Port Everglades. If accurate, an additional 66,000 Puerto Ricans would have set foot in Florida since November 29, based on the governor’s figures.

My guess is the figures are a count of passenger manifests or people boarding and deplaning, making for a total 266,000 Puerto Rican migrants added to the Florida diaspora, an extraordinary number – perhaps too high given that it surpasses the total number of Puerto Ricans who left the island in the 10 years after the Great Recession.

School Enrollment

Next, look at school enrollment. The number of new Puerto Rican students enrolled in Orange and Osceola schools may be a little closer to the truth because these are actual students who have shown up in classrooms.

Osceola schools have taken in nearly 2,000 new Puerto Rican students (probably more by now), while Orange has admitted about 2,600, according to the latest Orange County Public Schools student count. The State Board of Education said during a meeting in Lake County in late November that 6,500 Puerto Rican students have enrolled in public school across Florida, excluding 710 from the Virgin Islands.

Multiply that by 3.1, the average size of the Puerto Rican family, and that’s 20,156 Puerto Rican migrants in the Sunshine State, including 8,060 in Orange and 6,200 in Osceola – again way below the state’s published number. If students are unaccompanied minors staying with relatives who already live here, the Puerto Rican migration numbers would decline even more.

Meanwhile, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York sheds light on a different set of estimates. The center forecasts that between 114,000 and 213,000 Puerto Ricans will leave the island each year in the next two years, not two months. 

Different Set of Numbers

The center forecasts a total of 470,335 Puerto Ricans or 14 percent of the island’s population will leave from 2017 to 2019.

“In other words,” the center writes in its report dated October, “Puerto Rico will lose the same population in a span of a couple of years after Hurricane María as the island lost during a prior decade of economic stagnation. [italics mine].”

As  expected, Florida is the state most likely to receive the highest number of Puerto Ricans. Over 1 million Puerto Ricans already reside in the Sunshine State. The center pegs annual in-migration at between 40,000 and 82,000 people.

That is a big number, to be sure, but it’s still significantly below what Gov. Scott’s office has already reported.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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