Sunday, January 18, 2009

Louisiana last in population growth ...


Excerpted from an article by Cain Burdeau, Associated Press Writer:

Louisiana is leading the nation in loss of population, supplanting North Dakota in percentage of population decline, new U.S. Census data shows.

If the trend continues, Louisiana could rank last in population growth when the 2010 Census is completed.

Between 2000 and 2008, Louisiana's population - estimated at 4.4 million in 2000 - fell by about 58,000, or 1.3 percent, the Census' annual survey updates show. The only other state to lose people over that same period, North Dakota, saw a drop of 0.1 percent.

The new figures - interim to the formal Census in 2010 - indicate Louisiana is facing serious problems with outmigration, especially among younger and better educated people, demographers who track such trends in the state say. A string of monster hurricanes - Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike - exacerbated the slide.

"Louisiana leads the nation in outmigration," said Elliott Stonecipher, a Shreveport-based demographic analyst. "Going on 30 years, we've had a steady flow of people out the door."

One root cause is the oil bust of the mid-1980s, which sucked jobs and employers out of the state's oil and natural gas dominated economy. Since then, population gains have been mostly flat and now downward.

"This is something we've been barking about for a long time," said Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans-based demographer.

Louisiana has not been able to keep pace with other Southern states since 1960. Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina exceeded national growth rates while Louisiana fell well short, according to an analysis done by Rigamer.

"It's kind of ironic, (Louisianans) weren't going far: They were going to Dallas, Houston, Atlanta," said Charles Tolbert, a demographer and sociologist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. "So it's not the South. They perceived better opportunity elsewhere than Louisiana."

Policy makers hope the downward trend will be turned around by a combination of events.

For one, the billions of dollars being spent by the federal government and insurance companies in the wake of the recent hurricanes is lifting the economy.

Another plus is Louisiana's relatively good economic outlook during the national recession. For example, Louisiana climbed from 45th to 17th in a new Forbes ranking on states' growth prospects.

Another positive sign is Gov. Bobby Jindal's vow to make the population dilemma a top agenda item. "I got into politics because I was tired of seeing so many people leave our state," Jindal (pictured) said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "We absolutely have to change this." The goal is to make Louisiana "the best place to raise a family, the best place to pursue careers," Jindal said.

Jindal said the solution is to expand the economy by encouraging new industries - such as nuclear energy, entertainment and alternative energy production - while keeping up the state's mainstays - including shipbuilding, fishing and public colleges.

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