NO.AerialsFile

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- French Quarter riverfront and skyline. File photos of aerials of New Orleans area and landmarks shot July 23, 2013.

John McCusker

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, more people moved from New Orleans to other areas of the United States last year than came to the city from other communities, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.

While New Orleans continues to grow slowly thanks to births and international migration, the reversal of in-country migration is a milestone for a city that has added thousands of new residents from areas across the country during its long recovery from the 2005 flood.

If the estimates are correct, and 2016 does not prove to be an aberration, the new figures may also be a turning point in the continued growth of the city.

The figures released Thursday are part of a yearly Census Bureau publication that estimates how populations have changed for every county in the country based on a variety of data including birth, death and tax records. The data cover the year ending July 1, 2016.

The data show that along with Orleans Parish, both the metro region and Louisiana as a whole continue to grow but face struggles attracting new residents from elsewhere in the country.

Local officials and researchers did not had a chance to review the figures or respond to them Wednesday.

New Orleans now has approximately 391,500 residents, roughly 80.8 percent of its population of 484,674 in 2000, the last census before Katrina and the figure preferred by some researchers when making comparisons between conditions before and since the storm. The metro area now stands at an estimated 1.25 million residents.

Louisiana as a whole now has about 4,682,000 residents and grew by about 0.3 percent last year. At the same time, about 12,000 more people moved from Louisiana to another state than moved into Louisiana.

The city, region and Louisiana as a whole are growing, but slowly. New Orleans, the other parishes in the metro region and the state all posted gains of significantly less than 1 percent over last year’s estimates.

For New Orleans, the main source of growth in recent years was what is known as “domestic migration”: people moving into the city from other areas of the United States. In 2011, for example, the city gained about 9,700 more people that way than it lost to other parishes and states, amounting to about three-quarters of the growth the city saw that year.

At that time, some former residents were still returning home and many new residents were being lured in by the city’s culture or to work on the recovery with nonprofits and other agencies.

But with affordable housing in scarce supply and nearly half of the city’s job growth coming in low-wage sectors such as hospitality and retail, the city may no longer have the allure it once did. About 760 more people left the parish for other areas of the country last year than moved in, according to the estimates.

The city’s entire growth between 2015 and 2016 came from births outpacing deaths and foreign immigrants outpacing those who left for other countries, according to the data.

The estimates are an attempt by the Census Bureau to give a sense of the U.S. population between the official head counts that occur every 10 years.

The bureau estimates how many people move from one community to another by looking at data cataloging changes of address filed with the Internal Revenue Service and with Medicare, said Allison Plyer, executive director of the Data Center, which tracks the local population.

Plyer did not have access to the new figures Wednesday but said generally that there are some potential problems with the annual estimates.

Because the Census Bureau uses tax and Medicare records to estimate how many people move from one part of the country to another, those figures may leave out residents who don’t pay taxes, undocumented workers and young people who still file their taxes at their parents’ address, Plyer said. All those groups have contributed to past population increases in New Orleans.

Within the New Orleans region itself, two suburban parishes show dramatically different trajectories when it comes to attracting residents.

Jefferson Parish has been losing thousands of residents a year to other parishes and states, growing overall only because of its population’s birthrate and because between 1,500 and 1,600 foreign immigrants move into the parish each year. Overall, it grew by a little less than 1,000 people between 2015 and 2016 and now has an estimated population of 435,555, retaining its position as the state's second-most populous parish, behind East Baton Rouge.

St. Tammany Parish, on the other hand, attracted more U.S. residents than any other parish in Louisiana, with its 2,400 new residents helping it to gain a total of 3,634 people, a population gain unmatched by any other parish in the state. With an estimated 253,602 total residents, St. Tammany has overtaken Caddo Parish as the fourth-most populous in the state, according to the Census Bureau data.

Elsewhere in the New Orleans region, St. Charles Parish shrank by more than 40 people and now has about 53,000 residents. St. Bernard Parish grew by more than 900 people, to nearly 45,700 residents. St. John the Baptist Parish lost almost 200 people, to end up at about 43,630. Finally, Plaquemines Parish added more than 80 new residents for a total of about 23,460.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​