A house goes up for sale in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Louisiana's population continues to shrink — down by nearly 13,000 people to make it one of 16 states to lose population between 2019 and 2020.

The rate of deaths and people leaving Louisiana outpaced births and in-migration to the state, taking the population down to 4,645,318 residents in July 2020, according to the latest U.S. Census data released recently. The estimate is a calculation based off of the last Census taken in 2010, when Louisiana had 4.5 million residents. The 2020 census count for the state isn't expected for another few months.

The drop-off in the 2019 to July 2020 data continues a trend that has seen Louisiana lose about 36,000 residents since 2016, which aligns with a decline in the oil and gas industry after oil prices crashed below $30 per barrel from a peak of $100 per barrel in 2014.

"It was the collapse of the oil patch," said Loren Scott, retired LSU professor and economist by trade. 

Scott noted that between Lafayette, Houma and New Orleans, the regions collectively lost 60,000 jobs between 2015 and 2017 stemming from the slowdown in the oil and gas industry. In Baton Rouge, the 2016 flood also contributed to some population loss. Meanwhile, much of the state above Interstate 10 has "been in a state of decline" for years with lackluster economic performance, he said.

"People tend to go where the economic opportunities are," Scott said. 

A major factor in the population loss is the growing share of aging residents who are no longer having children and those who are empty nesters. For decades, Louisiana's population still grew overall because of a natural increase where births outweighed both deaths and residents leaving the state. The most recent data includes some deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, but the overarching downward trend has been happening for years. 

“There was definitely a decline of natural increase over the decade. As it’s starting to taper off, the natural increase doesn’t offset out-migration as much,” said Troy Blanchard, interim dean for LSU's College of the Humanities and demographer.

The latest figures released for July do not yet include parish-level population data to see whether previous trends continued for parishes in the state.

Figures from previous years had shown population gains between 2010 and 2016 and continuing through 2019 in Ascension, Bossier, Calcasieu, Lafayette, Livingston, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Tangipahoa and West Baton Rouge parishes. 

Orleans Parish population was growing steadily between 2010 and 2016, but lost steam and declined to 390,144 residents in 2019. 

East Baton Rouge Parish also had gained population between 2010 and 2016, then fell in 2019 to 440,059, which was the population in 2010. 

East Feliciana, West Feliciana, St. Helena, Pointe Coupee and Iberville parishes also lost population between 2016 and 2019. 

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The biggest declines in population across the state had included St. Mary, Iberia, St. John the Baptist, Morehouse, Vernon, Caddo and Webster parishes.

Among residents who do leave the state, it's largely college-educated people, according to research by Gary Wagner, a business economist with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

Net migration to Texas for those ages 24 and under with a degree in 2017 was at minus 2,140, the worst since 2004. For ages 25-34, it was minus 1,343 after being at minus 1,275 in 2016.

That's an issue for the future of employees and business owners. 

"It's a bad thing if you're disproportionately losing young adults," said Tim Slack, demographer and sociology professor at LSU. "Migration is a selective process; not everybody has the resources to get up and go. If we're exporting young and educated people, that's a problem."

Often, people migrate to regions where there are jobs and "high functioning public institutions," Slack said. 

"We don't perform very well; a person with a young family wants a good job and a good school system," he said. 

Meanwhile, Louisiana continues to have among the smallest immigrant populations with the vast majority of residents native born. Typically, immigrants are pulled by economic opportunity, so it's a signal of a sluggish state economy, Slack said. 

It's unclear whether the upcoming 2020 Census will be the most accurate reflection of the state population, as Louisiana had only 60% of residents self-respond to questions. Census takers were attempting to visit homes without responses amid a busy hurricane season, and the coronavirus pandemic complicated the effort. 

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