Four Year Anniversary of Hurricane Maria Series: Aging Population

For the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College has prepared a new report series focusing on questions of social vulnerability. The Social vulnerability index as developed by the CDC/ATSDR examines how communities are affected by external stresses such as poverty, disability, housing type and transportation access. The SVI can help emergency response planners and public health officials identify and map the communities that will most likely need support before, during, and after a hazardous event.

For this report series we have focused specifically on aging and disabled populations to help better understand how these groups are disproportionately impacted by disasters like Hurricane Maria, the 2020 earthquakes, power outages, flooding, and the COVID-19 pandemic. These events have had a compounding mental, physical, and socioeconomic effect on vulnerable populations like the elderly and the disabled. This report series analyzes the intersection between vulnerable populations (senior age and disabled population) and CDC’s social vulnerability index (SVI).

Key Findings:

  • 22% of Puerto Rico’s population is elderly (65 years or more). This is much higher than the US average of 16.5%
  • 40% of Puerto Rico’s senior age population lives at or below the poverty line. This is disproportionately higher than the fifty states where the poverty rate for seniors is 9.4% overall and 7.9% among Latinos.
  • The percentage of senior-age population is growing. The proportion of seniors is up 6% from 2017. Since Hurricane Maria, the senior age population grew across all municipalities, with the exception of Fajardo.
  • The majority of the elderly population resides in the greater San Juan metropolitan area. The municipalities with the largest senior age population are San Juan, where 23.5% of the population is elderly, followed by Bayamon (22.5%) and Carolina (23.1%). Outside of the San Juan area the greatest concentration of seniors are in Ponce (22.8%), and Caguas (20.9%). Within San Juan area the senior age population is highly concentrated in urban areas like Santurce (13,159), Sabana Abajo (10,868), Sabana Seca (9,544), Sabana Llana Sur (8,895), and Gobernador Piñero (8,596).
  • Santurce is the barrio with the greatest percentage of seniors overall.

Introduction

In 2020, seniors made up 22% of Puerto Rico’s overall population compared to 20% in 2017. Between 2017 and 2020 the senior age population increased by 6 percent going from 654,786 to 696,817. This means there were about 40,000 more seniors (65 years and older) in 2020 compared to 2017. A combination of lower fertility, higher life expectancy, and out-migration among young adults have led to the rapid growth of the older population in Puerto Rico. Efforts to understand and respond to demographic challenges such as the growing aging population in Puerto Rico, can help prepare communities, especially those experiencing a growth among the senior age population.

Spatial Distribution of Senior Age Population

Senior Age Population (65+) by County Level

As shown in figure 1, the majority of the senior age population (65 years and over) resides in municipalities within the San Juan metropolitan area. The municipalities with the largest senior age populations are San Juan (75,993) followed by Bayamón (38,666) and Carolina (34,465). Outside of the San Juan area Ponce (30,688), and Caguas (26,601) are among the 5 municipalities with the largest senior age population. On the other hand, Culebra (410), Maricao (1,252), Las Marías(1,757), Vieques (1,976), and Florida (2,263) were the municipalities with the least number of senior citizen residents in 2020.

Figure 1. Senior Age Population (65+) by County, 2020

Since Hurricane Maria, the senior age population grew across all municipalities, with the exception of Fajardo between 2017 and 2020. There are about 40,000 more seniors (65 years and older) in 2020 compared to 2017. During this period, the following municipalities: Toa Alta, Barranquitas, Las Piedras, Morovis experienced a +14% percent change of seniors. Naranjito, Maraciao, and Culebra showed a +13% percent change and Gurabo, Loiza, Aguada, Yabucoa showed a +12% population growth among the senior age population between 2017 and 2020. 

Figure 2. Percent Change of Senior Age 2017 to 2020 by County

In terms of absolute change, municipalities with the largest population density, such as San Juan, experienced a percentage change of 4% with a addition of 2,691 senior residents from 2017 to 2020, followed by Ponce, with a 5% change- a gain of 1,474 senior residents-; Toa Alta, with a 14% change- a gain of 1,397-; and Guaynabo, with a 7% change- a gain of 1,360 senior residents. Migration is the greatest driver of population loss in Puerto Rico’s largest urban municipalities. 

Figure 3. Absolute Change of Senior Age 2017 to 2020 by County

Senior Age Population (65+) by Barrio Level

As shown in figure 4, the senior age population is highly concentrated within urban municipalities of the San Juan metropolitan area. Barrios like Santurce (13,159), Sabana Abajo (10,868), Sabana Seca (9,544), Sabana Llana Sur (8,895), and Gobernador Piñero (8,596) are among the most populated senior age residents in Puerto Rico (see figure 4). Ponce’s Canas barrio (4,593) followed by Canas Urbano (3,669), Playa barrio (2,817), and Machuelo Arriba barrio (2,260) are among the most populated barrios of senior residents in 2020. 

In terms of absolute change, the senior age population in San Juan slightly increased from 72,093 in 2017 to 73,353, adding 1,260 senior residents in the municipality. Across the 18 barrios in San Juan, Santurce contains 18% of the senior population followed by 12% in Sabana Llana Sur barrio, and 9% in the Cupey barrio (see table x). On the other hand, Hato Rey Sur, El Cinco, Tortugo, and Caimito contain a lower share of the senior residents. 

As shown in table x, 11 out of the 16 barrios in San Juan experienced an increase in the senior age population, 2 barrios (El Cino and Gobernador Piñero) showed no change, and 5 barrios showed a decline. 

The following barrios experienced an increase in the senior age population: 18% in Quebrada Arenas, 17% in San Juan Antiguo, 14% in Universidad barrio, 13% in Sabana Llana Sur, 12% in Pueblo, 10% in Caimito, and 9% in Tortugo.  

Figure 4. Senior Age Population (65+) by Barrio Level

Selected Social and Economic Characteristics

Figure 5. Population 65 Years and Over by Age, 2017 to 2019

Among the 696,817 seniors in Puerto Rico, more than half (53%) were aged 65 to 74. The 75 to 84 age group share of the older population was 230,538 or 33%, more than double the number and the proportion (97,098) for those 85 years and older in 2020. As shown in figure 4, the 85 years and older age group showed a percent change of 17%. The 75 to 84 year old age group showed a 11 percent change.

Poverty & Income

In 2019, at least 40% of Puerto Rico’s senior age population lived below the poverty line. This represents a slight increase from 38.9% in 2017. Compared to other age groups, the 18 to 64 age group, were more likely to live in poverty than the children age (under 18) and senior age populations.

The poverty rate for all age groups, except the older population, declined from 2017 to 2019. In terms of percent change, the children age population (under 18 years old) showed a decline in  poverty by -14% from 57.8% in 2017 to 56.8% in 2019. The 18 to 64 age group showed a decline in poverty rate as well, by -6%, from 41.9% to 40.8% in the same period. However, the older age group (65 years and over) were the only age group with a positive percentage change of those living below poverty, from 38.9% in 2017 to 40% in 2019, with 6% percent change. This may be attributed to the growing aging population in Puerto Rico. 

In terms of household income in the past 12 months, Social Security was the most common form of income. In 2019, at least 85.5% of the senior age population received social security income with a median income of $13,443. However, in 2017, only 87% of the senior age population received social security income with a median income of $12,936. Earnings accounted for 23.8% of the senior age population with a median income of $33,199. 

Those receiving Food Stamp/SNAP benefits increased from 39.7% in 2017 to 44.1% in 2019.

Figure 6. Percentage of Population by Age and Living in Poverty: 2017 to 2019

Appendix A. Senior Age Population Change by Municipality, 2017 to 2020


You may sort the Appendix by clicking a column name.