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Puerto Rico's population fell 11.8% to 3.3 million, census shows

Economic and natural disasters, including Hurricane Maria, accelerated the U.S. territory's population loss.
A man walks through a closed commercial area in San Juan on March 25, 2020.
A man walks through a closed commercial area in San Juan on March 25, 2020.Ricardo Arduengo / AFP - Getty Images file

Puerto Rico's population fell 11.8 percent to 3.3 million over the past decade, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday.

The population loss was part of the bureau's announcement of the latest data from the 2020 census on state and territory populations. The U.S. population overall grew 7.4 percent to 331.5 million over the previous decade, according to the census.

Puerto Rico has suffered a string of disasters and setbacks that have led to an exodus of island residents to the U.S. mainland.

Those include drought, near economic collapse because of crushing debt, earthquakes and thrashings from hurricanes, the worst of which was Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

Puerto Rico already was experiencing a population decline largely driven by migration and low birth rates before it was hit by Maria, according to a 2019 report by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City.

Maria thrust the island into darkness when it crushed its electrical grid, shut off water and food supply to residents, flooded and destroyed homes, forced school closings and shut down businesses. It resulted in the deaths of around 3,000 people.

With a slow response and recovery response from the U.S. government on top of the destruction, many Puerto Ricans from the island joined those who had already fled due to the economic crisis.

The island hit a peak of 3.8 million in 2004 but hasn't seen a population increase since then, according to the Pew Research Center. The current population is about what it was in the 1970s.

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