Population growth is a big problem

Published 10:22 am Saturday, April 8, 2023

Louisiana lost its Eighth Congressional District in 1993 and its Seventh Congressional District in 2013. If current population trends continue, the state could lose the Sixth Congressional District before too long.

The state lost those congressional districts even though it has gained population in every census since 1980. It just wasn’t enough population growth to compete with states that had large population gains.

California, Florida and Texas were three of those states that gained in the 1990 census. Louisiana and 12 other states lost congressional districts. California gained seven seats, Florida, four, and Texas, three.

New 2023 census estimates were released last week and Louisiana lost nearly 39,000 people last year. The Advocate, in its report on census estimates, said those losses follow “anemic growth in the previous decade.”

Jefferson Parish lost 8,045 residents from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022, and New Orleans lost 7,314 residents. St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes were among the fastest-shrinking communities nationwide.

Terrebonne, which lost more than 4,200 residents, finished third in the country in terms of counties with more than 20,000 residents with the steepest per capita declines. The other three parishes finished in the top 10 population losers nationally.

St. Tammany and Lafayette parishes continued to see steady growth, and Lafayette was the only metro parish to gain population with 2,944 new residents. St. Tammany added 3,176 residents, Ascension and Livingston parishes added about 2,000 each, and Tangipahoa Parish added 1,500 residents.

The newspaper said that’s in keeping with a national trend that has seen suburban areas gain as both rural and urban areas have lost population. Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, lost 3,716 residents, according to the census estimates. East Baton Rouge, the state’s most populous parish, lost 3,109 residents. Calcasieu Parish lost 2,677.

OK, what’s the problem?

Hurricanes and other bad weather could be No. 1. The newspaper said the New Orleans metro area was at the center of the exodus. It blamed Hurricane Ida for causing tens of thousands of people to abandon southeast Louisiana last year.

Many residents eventually get fed up with rebuilding and re-roofing their homes, experiencing long power losses and the loss of many city and parish services.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had the same effect on New Orleans. Residents moved to Baton Rouge and Houston and many of those who moved to Texas stayed there. New Orleans had a population of 343,829 in 2010, a decrease of 140,845 from the 2000 census.

Then, there is the pandemic. Cities and urban counties nationwide shrunk during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Los Angeles County in California lost more than 90,700 people, the most overall. However, that is less than 1% of its population of 9.7 million.

Louisiana’s property insurance crisis is another reason people leave the state. Hurricane Ida, for example, caused companies to either declare bankruptcy, simply leave the state, or increase premiums.

A St. James Parish official said, “I am still talking to people who have not gotten paid by their insurance company. Not everybody has, you know, $100,000 laying around to fix their home after a storm.”

Allison Plyer, chief demographer for the Data Center in New Orleans, told The Advocate, “The people who will stay will be the wealthy folks who can self-insure and the low-income people who inherit properties and can’t afford to move elsewhere.”

Finally, there’s education. The Center Square reported that in Louisiana an estimated 26.4% of adults 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is below the 35% share nationwide. The state’s percentage is the fourth lowest among all states. The three lowest are West Virginia, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

The median annual wage for workers with a bachelor’s degree was nearly $70,000 in 2021, according to 24//7 Wall St. The median annual wage for high school graduates with no college degree was $42,968.

Recent state budget surpluses have made it possible for Gov. John Bel Edwards and members of the Legislature to increase education funding at all levels, and that is expected to continue in the legislative session beginning April 10.

Unfortunately, a budget shortfall is expected when a 0.45 percent state sales tax that was increased in 2018 goes off the books in 2025. The loss is expected to be about $500 million annually.

Slow population growth has cost Louisiana two of its congressional districts. Legislators can do some things to attract more people to Louisiana, but more budget cuts aren’t part of the solution.


Jim Beam can be reached at American Press 337-433-3000.