People wait in line to get a flight out of the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport as they try to return home or escape the conditions after Hurricane Maria on September 26, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
People wait in line to get a flight out of the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport as they try to return home or escape the conditions after Hurricane Maria on September 26, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. - 
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Hurricane Maria, which has devastated Puerto Rico and left hundreds of thousands without electricity, comes at a difficult time for the island. Reeling from a recession, Puerto Rico has suffered a so-called brain drain, as its labor market shrinks and professionals flee to the mainland to find jobs. The island has lost more than 10 percent of its population to the mainland over the last decade, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Now, after Hurricane Maria, a lot of ATMs on the island are offline or out of cash, and many businesses are closed. The hurricane has left Puerto Rico’s economy in shambles, said Edwin Melendez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.

“That means that unemployment is going to be significant after the storm,” Melendez said. “That itself is going to spike migration to the United States.”

Melendez estimates that up to 200,000 Puerto Ricans will move to the mainland over the next year.

Héctor Cordero-Guzmán, who teaches at Baruch College in New York, said the storm could worsen the island’s brain drain. Many of its young professionals — doctors, teachers, and engineers — have already been leaving. When they do, it’s a downward spiral for the economy, he said.

“You have the loss of income from the individuals that were working in Puerto Rico at one point and no longer working there, the loss of their tax revenue, the loss of their consumer income,” Cordero-Guzmán said.

Hurricane Maria was the worst thing that could have happened to Puerto Rico at the worst possible time, he said.

 

Follow Marielle Segarra at @mariellesegarra