The shifting of lives along the Gulf Coast is still staggering to comprehend, comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl, the 1927 floods and the 1755 exile of the Acadians from Nova Scotia. Still, the 2005 hurricane season stands alone ' according to state figures, Katrina and Rita displaced more than 780,000 people in Louisiana alone.
The end result could be diminished federal funding, which is based on population numbers, and the loss of two seats in Congress over the next 14 years. There are also indications that the shift of political power from New Orleans to other regions around the state is strengthening. It's a sullen cause-and-effect scenario where population equals money and influence, a state of affairs that demographers and political observers alike believe is approaching, despite the lack of reliable, current data.
"No one is geared up to take a real census except the U.S. Census Bureau, and they only do it every 10 years," says State Demographer Karen Paterson. "And it's a moving target right now because people don't stay in one place. A lot of things are still unresolved."
At deadline, the census was set to release its American Community Survey for cities with populations greater than 65,000 and less than 250,000. It has a large margin of error and only counts people living in households. Another population survey for the devastated areas, this time based on the state's administrative records, is also expected in December.
"Everyone is waiting on Katrina numbers, and this isn't it," Paterson says.
However, a rapid-response survey recently conducted in the New Orleans region, including St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, could be released over the next couple of months. While it will make for an interesting read, Paterson says the real story will emerge with the official 2010 decennial census.
What we already know for sure is Louisiana was hemorrhaging residents prior to last year's hurricane season. Based on the most recent and complete statewide census survey released six years ago, 75,000 people moved out of Louisiana from 1995 to 2000, with 47,000 people leaving New Orleans during that time period. Shreveport-based demographer and political analyst Elliott Stonecipher says the storms placed this historical trend in overdrive. Recent reports using postal records reveal the wave of people moving back into New Orleans has slowed, and Stonecipher believes a second wave of people moving out is about to occur.
"We don't want to believe that any of the people that stayed are going to leave, but they are," he says. "They're going to leave because the schools didn't work out. They're going to leave because of Entergy. They're going to leave because of the [New Orleans] mayor's race and state politics. They are fed up, and they do not want to wait anymore."
This is the loss Stonecipher says will largely be picked up by the 2010 census, which will in turn be used to determine federal funding and draw new election boundaries. Even before the storms, Louisiana needed another 7,000 new residents over the next five years to keep from losing a congressional seat. In fact, a 30-year estimate by the census bureau ranked Louisiana 49th overall in growth. The situation is so dire that Stonecipher says another congressional seat could be lost following the 2020 population census unless something "unforeseen" happens.
The traditional epicenter of power in state politics is expected to shift as well. As more people leave the New Orleans region, Stonecipher says its fabled hold over the state Legislature will further deteriorate. There are currently 21 seats in the House and Senate that encompass or touch on Orleans Parish, out of 144 total seats statewide. But if the population doesn't pick back up in Orleans Parish in coming years, New Orleans may be confined to just a few seats in each chamber through redistricting.
The Baton Rouge region has gained the most from the tumultuous shifts. Outlying parishes like Livingston and Ascension were already growing due to "white flight," and the city's school enrollments recently beat earlier estimates. Baton Rouge's proximity to the interstate system and the New Orleans region has also worked in its favor.
Exactly how many people are in Baton Rouge now is anybody's guess. James Richardson, an economics professor at Louisiana State University, told MSNBC that he expects a permanent population increase of 25,000 to 50,000 in the greater Baton Rouge area; the Baton Rouge's mayor's office released a 100,000 head-count figure in the past year, and a federal survey found a 60,000 spike earlier this year. "I have a sense people are going to be staying there," Paterson says.
Lafayette is stuck in the middle of the trend, Stonecipher says. The Hub City took on additional residents after Katrina and many have stayed, but the people who sought refuge from Rita were less permanent and may have been counted in those numbers. That's sparked ongoing debates in the business community about overbuilding to suit a population that might be smaller than it seems.
Further north are signs of relatively minor growth in Shreveport, even though a recent survey showed a drop in residents. Stonecipher believes that dip might hold if baby boomers and retirees don't start looking toward the state line to spend Road Home money. "There are a lot of people saying Shreveport is now the second largest city in the state, and that's not going to end up being true," he says. "It is a little further than most evacuees will want to live, and there is a huge cultural barrier with anything north of Alexandria."
The sleeper gains may be in cities located in the Bayou Parish region, like Houma and Thibodaux. As the state dispenses money to people for rebuilding, and the recovery of hard-hit places like St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes remains uncertain, white-collar families might look further down the coast for a similar lifestyle.
"It just seems to make so much sense to me," Stonecipher says. "It depends how serious we are about coastal restoration issues and hurricane issues. Absent those fears, though, these areas could disproportionately gain."
Anything can happen between now and 2010. The New Orleans region will continue its rebirth as federal dollars fill state coffers and homes will be rebuilt in increasing numbers. But below the surface, Stonecipher says a significant segment of the population is going to grow weary with the slow pace of recovery and the incessant noise of political chatter. "Some people might be fooled because of all the money being spent and because they can see the brick and mortar," he says. "But dollars being spent does not mean healthy and fundamental change. We can't allow ourselves to believe every single person is coming home and that they'll stay here when they do."
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)