San Juan. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated fall in the birth rate in Puerto Rico and, if the trend continues, the island may end 2020 below the 17,000 births, an unprecedented year-on-year reduction of almost 20% threatening the economy.
“The pandemic has worsened a problem that already existed,” José Caraballo, director of the Census Information Center (CIC) of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), told Efe, recalling that this reduction in births was part of a demographic pattern that is now going through its most critical moments.
Projections from the Census of the United States, a country of which Puerto Rico is a territory and a Commonwealth, indicate that by the end of 2020 the number of births on the island will stand at 16,800, with the sharpest drop in recent decades.
IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY
Positive population growth led to a peak in the middle of the last century of about 85,000 births a year, a trend that remained relatively until the year 2006, coinciding with the beginning of the world economic crisis that hit Puerto Rico just like the rest of the world.
“This whole situation is drastically deteriorated from the year 2016, when deaths exceed births,” said Caraballo.
The expert stressed that, although the pandemic has raised, if possible, greater concern on the matter, it cannot be ignored that the demographic decline is a structural problem with direct connections to the economy.
“In general it can be said that in Puerto Rico the cost of childbearing is high and the purchasing power is low,” he said, after noting that, for example, public transportation is zero, academic achievement is low in state schools and food they have high prices, all of which leads people to think carefully about whether they want to have children.
In addition, he highlighted the serious problem of emigration, since a large part of the people who leave the island do so, precisely, of reproductive age.
Caraballo’s words are confirmed by the fact that the population of Puerto Rico fell 4.3% in 2018 compared to the previous year, losing 142,000 people to 3,195,153 inhabitants, data that reveals the impact of Hurricane María (2017), according to the United States Census Community Survey.
Caraballo indicated, however, that he does not see a long-term problem of population replacement on the island, since the more modest classes continue with their reproductive rhythm and offset the trend of the more educated sectors, which have clearly reduced the birth rate drastically.
BETWEEN 2010 AND 2020 BIRTHS WERE REDUCED 60%
Between 2010 and 2020, births fell by 60% on the island, which means that of the nearly 120 children born each day in 2010, the figure has now dropped to about 45.
Demographer Raúl Figueroa told Efe that in his opinion what is happening reflects “a dramatic trend” and that, without a doubt, the pandemic has affected the birth rate.
“A drop of that magnitude was not expected,” said Figueroa about the almost 20% fewer births expected for this year compared to 2019.
“The pandemic was greatly affected by the economic uncertainty and the problems derived from the disease,” he indicated, after underlining that the loss of work due to the coronavirus has been another obstacle for people to choose to have children.
Figueroa indicated that now we will have to wait to know if people delayed their reproductive plans for after the pandemic.
“In any case, if the birth rate continues to drop, it would be very worrying,” said the demographer, who said that if you want people to have children in Puerto Rico, you have to provide security to people, something that they currently lack due to the unemployment and the bad economic situation.
The specialists expressed their concern about the fact that less population means less spending, economic contraction in general and fall in employment.
The consequence of the lack of employment is emigration, which on the island in 2018 was the highest since 2006, taking as a reference the year that marks the beginning in Puerto Rico, as in many other countries, of an economic crisis of which the Caribbean territory has not yet been recovered.
The Puerto Rican population living in the continental United States amounted to 5,791,453 people in 2018 – the latest year available.