The prosperity gap between Louisiana and Texas seemed wide enough before last week’s release of the U.S. Census count from 2020.
But the latest population estimates underscore the way Texas is surging forward while Louisiana is stuck in first gear — or, at least in the last few years, in reverse.
Texas gained nearly 4 million residents, and its population grew by 16% over the decade. Florida was not far behind, with nearly 15% growth, adding almost 3 million.
Louisiana gained about 125,000 people, a growth rate of less than 3% — and all of it in the first half of the decade. Since the collapse of oil prices in the middle of the last decade, population here has declined.
Overall, the U.S. population grew by three times our rate. The South grew at four times the rate of Louisiana.
Our growth was third-worst in the South, ahead of only Mississippi and West Virginia, which lost population.
In 1980, Louisiana had 300,000 more people than Alabama. Now we have 250,000 fewer residents.
Losing to Alabama in football is frustrating, but falling so far behind in population and prosperity should be more alarming.
In general, the census numbers demonstrated that Americans are voting with their feet, as population shifts to low-tax, pro-business sunbelt states and away from big-government states like New York and California.
Louisiana should be in that number, but the states surrounding us are growing and we are not, even as we have advantages over other our Southern neighbors, like access to fossil fuels and the Mississippi River.
Workforces are becoming more mobile, as was demonstrated during the pandemic, which means states like Texas and Florida will gain even more advantages. The old model was that businesses controlled where the jobs are, and states lured them with tax breaks. The new model will be that employees control where the jobs are, so the states that win will be the ones that are seen as great places to live.
In his books about the "creative class," analyst Richard Florida suggests that social tolerance, advanced technology and talent would remake society; the pandemic did not invent those trends but is probably accelerating them.
Thanks to the census numbers, Texas will gain two congressional seats and Florida will pick up one. Florida will have a bigger congressional delegation than New York.
Louisianians were relieved to hear that our state will not lose a seat, though that outcome was always unlikely. We lost a seat in the 2010 census. We lost another in the 1990 census.
Louisianians envy Texas, and we know it well because so many of our children have migrated there, in search of better opportunities. Of course, Texas is much larger than the Bayou State and in some ways, the gross population characteristics are like a middleweight boxer being compared to a major heavyweight. But the census numbers reveal tough questions about what we should be doing to not only become more welcoming to the "creative class" but also to generate a larger number of home-grown bright young people.
The success of our neighbor to the west shows us what Louisiana could become.