New Orleans

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- The New Orleans skyline as seen from Algiers Point on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.

New census data show that population growth in New Orleans slowed to a trickle last year as the rebound that followed Hurricane Katrina continued to taper off. 

For the first time since the 2005 storm, more people moved out of New Orleans than moved in. The only thing that kept the city’s population climbing — by 271 people — was new births and arrivals from other countries. 

It was smallest increase of the past decade, though experts generally regard annual estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau as less reliable than the official survey conducted every 10 years. The data, covering the year ending July 1, 2017, were compiled by using birth, death and tax records.

The figures show Orleans Parish is growing at a slower rate than the metro region, which added a few thousand people, mainly in St. Tammany Parish. 

The population of the state as a whole shrank somewhat. 

The data tell only a partial story. New Orleans officials are scheduled Thursday to approve a $6.5 million incentive package for a technology company that has pledged to create 2,000 local jobs over the next seven years, a move aimed at curtailing a perceived exodus of young people from the city.

And local population expert Allison Plyer of the Data Center cautioned that annual figures can be off by fairly wide margins. “All of this should be taken with a grain of salt,” Plyer said.

Still, others said the numbers should act as a wake-up call on the need to diversify the kinds of businesses that Louisiana attracts. 

Robert Eisenstadt, an economics professor and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, pointed out that Louisiana's losses are concentrated in its southern parishes, which rely heavily on the static oil and gas industries, as well as tourism. 

To grow, he said, Louisiana needs to attract companies in high-growth sectors by investing more in infrastructure and education. Otherwise, a declining population could lead to a vicious cycle in which the revenue necessary to make those investments dwindles, leading to further losses. 

“That does not bode well for Louisiana," Eisenstadt said.

New Orleans had roughly 393,292 residents last year, or about 81 percent of the 484,674 who lived here in 2000, the last census before Katrina. 

The metro area had 1.25 million residents last year, an increase of 4,632 people from 2016, which amounts to growth of less than 1 percent. 

Louisiana as a whole stood at about 4,684,000 people, down by 1,824.

In New Orleans, approximately 1,219 more people moved out than moved in, the data show. People from other countries, however, did move into the city at a slightly higher rate than those who left for other countries.

The loss of residents to other areas of the U.S. bucks a trend established in the past decade, in which the main source of growth for New Orleans was residents moving to the city from elsewhere in the country, either because they were returning after the storm or because they were drawn here by the city's famed lifestyle and cultural attractions. 

But as housing prices climb and as most of the city’s job growth comes in low-wage sectors such as hospitality and retail, other parishes and states may be looking more appealing.

St. Tammany grew by more than 3,500 people — or more than 1 percent — from 2016 to 2017. That’s the fastest growth rate of any parish in the region.

St. John and St. Charles parishes experienced small losses from 2016 to 2017. Jefferson saw a gain of more than 500 residents, while St. Bernard and Plaquemines also had small gains.

Jefferson remains the most populous parish in the region, with roughly 439,000 residents.


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.