Since the early 1900s, Louisiana’s population has nearly tripled. This population growth did not occur at a steady, linear rate but rather in pulses, alternating between periods of rapid growth and periods of little to no change. This variability in population was largely due to fluctuations in economic activities, particularly agriculture and the oil and gas industries, together with natural disasters including floods, droughts, and hurricanes. Such events have been important factors in determining population movements within Louisiana throughout its history.
Following World War I and during the Great Depression, Louisiana was greatly affected by the sinking economy. This was especially due to the decline in farm prices. The situation worsened as a result of the 1927 Mississippi River Flood and the 1930 – 1931 drought. These events displaced tens of thousands of farm laborers and their families from the country side to urban areas, effectively shifting the population’s center of gravity from northern to southern parishes. This trend was further accentuated during and after World War II from 1941 to 1945. Federal spending during the war helped the state’s economy recover from the agricultural collapse that followed WWI by creating new employment opportunities, particularly related to the oil industry.1
By 1950, the population of Louisiana had transitioned from living in mostly rural to urban regions, as many important urban-industrial centers developed around the state. While the Greater New Orleans region remained the state’s major industrial area, comprising almost 20 percent of the state’s total population, the cities of Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Lafayette and Lake Charles also served as important industrial centers, comprising almost 30 percent of the state’s population combined by 1950.2
The population increase of coastal parishes continued virtually unabated until the 1980s, when the oil bust slowed, reversing this trend.3 Coastal parish populations stabilized once again between 2000 and 2005 when population growth was less than one percent in most of the coastal parishes. This flat rate of growth coincides with state population trends, with the greater New Orleans region maintaining approximately the same share of state population of 27 percent. However, there was a general trend of population movement from Orleans Parish to neighboring suburban parishes, with St. Tammany Parish being the dominant recipient of people from Orleans Parish. Prior to 2005, Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard Parishes showed unemployment rates higher than the national average whereas Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes posted unemployment rates lower than the national average.4
In the summer of 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita exacerbated the migration trend from the Southshore to Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain within the southernmost part of the state, a trend that continued until 2010. Hurricane-impacted parishes, such as St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes, saw major decreases in their population (almost a 50 and 30 percent decrease respectively between 2005 and 2010), while others, e.g. Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa, saw significant increases in population (almost 20 percent, 17 percent and 13 percent respectively, between 2005 and 2010).5
Louisiana’s population is expected to increase in the coming years Population projections suggest that South Louisiana will be the fastest growing region of the state. Metropolitan areas located along the I-10/I-12 Corridor, including Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, will likely have the highest growth. Growth in North Louisiana will be concentrated in the Shreveport and Alexandria Metropolitan Areas.6 Despite projected growth, Louisiana will likely grow at a slower rate than much of the country, which could make it vulnerable to losing seats in Congress. Louisiana’s population is also projected to grow older, on average, although not as much as some other states.7 These trends should be considered by policy makers in order to contemplate strategic policy adjustments that better reflect the needs of the population, such as in the planning process for road construction, health care, education and other services.
1Reonas, Matthew. “World War I.” KnowLA. Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
2Sanson, Jerry P. “Louisiana During World War II.” KnowLA. Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 15 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
3United States Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
4Regional Planning Commission for Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany Parishes. “Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, 2009 Update”. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
5Hori, Makiko, Mark Schafer, and David Bowman. “Displacement dynamics in Southern Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” Population Research and Policy Review 28.1 (2009): 45-65. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
6Blanchard, Troy. “Population Projections of Louisiana Parishes through 2030.” n.d. PDF File.
7Waller, Mark. “Population forecast bullish on south Louisiana.” The Times-Picayune. Advance Digital, 9 Feb. 2009. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.