Estimating the Migration of Puerto Ricans to Florida Using Flight Passenger Data

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Florida has been a primary destination for migrants from Puerto Rico for many years. Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, caused extensive damage on the island. In its aftermath, thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to the U.S. mainland, many of them to Florida. Estimating the size of this inflow to Florida is no easy task, given that no direct measures of migration are available. Various indicators such as flight passenger arrivals, individuals served at multi-agency resource centers, school enrollments, FEMA applications, U.S. postal service address changes, and mobile phone data have been analyzed, often leading to quite different estimates. In this paper, the feasibility of using flight passenger data to estimate net migration between Puerto Rico and Florida is explored. The study compares historical flight passenger data to migration estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS). This is followed by a more detailed analysis of the flight passenger flows between Puerto Rico and Florida since Hurricane Maria; flight passenger flows between Puerto Rico and airports in other states on the U.S. mainland are also briefly examined. The study finds that – with some caveats – the flight passenger data may indeed be useful for estimating the hurricane-induced migration from Puerto Rico to Florida. Based on the available evidence, it is estimated that about 30,000 to 50,000 Puerto Ricans moved to Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Read More

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