East Baton Rouge Parish remained Louisiana’s most populous parish in 2014 but lagged in growth behind its suburban neighbors, as well as parishes in the greater New Orleans and Lafayette areas and even the state as a whole, new census estimates say.
St. Bernard, Ascension and West Baton Rouge parishes were the three with the most growth in Louisiana in 2014, with annual growth rates between 2.2 and 2.4 percent.
Despite the bright skies in some parishes, demographer Elliott Stonecipher saw darker clouds ahead, as he pointed out that since the 2010 census, 38 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have lost population.
He said the state’s overall growth since 2010 is not strong enough to recoup the congressional seat lost that year and suggested declining birth rates and weaker than expected economic growth aren’t helping.
Continued out-migration is cutting into Louisiana’s natural growth rate from births, and only migration from outside the U.S., primarily from Mexico and other Latin American countries, is starting to help mitigate those losses, he said.
“Those are just not good trends,” Stonecipher said.
Louisiana as a whole grew by 0.44 percent between 2013 and 2014 to nearly 4.65 million.
Only 31 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes saw any kind of population growth between 2013 and 2014. Cameron Parish was the only one in the state that had no growth, with its population remaining at 6,679 people.
The new figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual county population estimate, which was made public early Thursday. The estimate looks at population change between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014.
East Baton Rouge Parish, which had a population of 446,042 in 2014, added just 763 people for a one-year growth rate of 0.17 percent. People leaving is a major reason for East Baton Rouge Parish’s minimal growth, according to the data.
East Baton Rouge’s natural population growth from the number of births outpacing the number of deaths was the largest in Louisiana, at 2,353 people in 2014.
The parish ended up with a net loss of 1,380 people in 2014 when comparing the number of people who moved in versus those who moved out.
Only one parish lost more people to out-migration than East Baton Rouge — Caddo Parish had a net loss of 3,575.
By contrast, Ascension Parish had a net of 1,715 people move into the parish, the largest in the Baton Rouge area, but also added another 850 people through natural growth.
Ascension’s population grew by 2,597 people, or nearly 2.3 percent, to 117,029 people in 2014.
Since 2010, Ascension has grown by nearly 8.5 percent, the third-fastest in Louisiana, and in that period was only outpaced by Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, which continue to add people after Hurricane Katrina devastated that area in 2005.
Ascension Parish Council Chairman Randy Clouatre said people continue to move to his parish for its great public schools and good, safe quality of life.
“It’s a choice parish for people who don’t even work in Ascension Parish,” he said.
West Baton Rouge grew by 2.2 percent between 2013 and 2014, adding 530 people and bringing its population to 25,085. Since 2010, the parish has grown 4.7 percent and added 1,136 people, the eighth-fastest growing parish in the state.
West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “PeeWee” Berthelot said the growth figures for his parish match steady building permit figures from the past two years as new homes are being built in the Brusly and Addis areas in the southern part of the parish, including in the large Sugar Mill subdivision.
Berthelot attributed the growth to similar factors as Clouatre did but said the people who work on the west bank also are deciding to live there to avoid Baton Rouge’s chronic traffic.
“The traffic is both good and bad for us. The traffic is adding to the growth and creating a nightmare for us as far as trying to get something,” Berthelot said.
Livingston Parish was among the 10 fastest growing in Louisiana, with a growth rate of 1.1 percent between 2013 and 2014.
But even the fastest-growing parishes in Louisiana fall well behind the fastest-growing counties in the nation, including top counties in Florida, North Dakota, Texas and Alabama, where growth rates ranged from 4 percent to 8.7 percent.
Several other Mississippi River parishes that have benefited from the same industrial boom that has spurred construction projects in Ascension and West Baton Rouge saw largely flat population growth in 2014. In some cases, these parishes also saw negative growth since 2010, the new census estimates show.
Stonecipher saw those weak population growth figures as an example of the broader demographic trends that he says the state is facing.
St. John the Baptist Parish grew just 0.3 percent between 2013 and 2014 and saw a 4.2 percent population drop since 2010.
Only four other parishes in Louisiana saw more population loss since 2010. All — Claiborne, Red River, St. Helena and Tensas — are far more rural and far less industry-heavy parts of Louisiana.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.