What’s Driving Growth?

More people are leaving than coming domestically, but New Orleans’ population is still up.
Source: The Data Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2016 Population Estimates

In March, the Census Bureau released its 2016 estimate of the total population of New Orleans, which confirmed that the population of the city is continuing to grow.

The most accurate data on population comes out once every 10 years when the census conducts a head count of the entire country. Every year between the decennial censuses, the Census Bureau develops an estimate of the total population of every county in the country. They start with the 2010 census count; they add births, subtract deaths, and then estimate total international and domestic migration in and out of each county or parish.

Births and deaths are pretty well documented, but estimating the movement of people into and out of any parish is difficult. The census relies on documented international migration data, as well as changes of address on IRS tax forms and Medicare forms to estimate international and domestic movements. However, this method cannot capture all migration. Specifically, undocumented immigrants, low-income people who don’t file taxes, and even young professionals who continue to file their taxes at their parents’ home in a different state or county…all of these groups are not well captured in the census’ estimation methodology.

Nonetheless, one finding from the census’ latest estimate deserves some attention. For the first year since Katrina, the census estimated that, domestically, New Orleans had more people leaving the parish than coming to the parish. Notably, this number is small (-759 or less than .2 percent of the city’s population) and it is only an estimate. But the negative domestic migration number is an indicator that the population growth of New Orleans is now less driven by the return of displaced New Orleanians (the majority of whom were displaced domestically).

If New Orleans experienced more people leaving domestically than coming to the city, what is driving population growth? Births continue to outpace deaths for a “natural increase” of 1,684 people. International migration added over 1,000 people, as well.

Net international migration represents an important source of population growth in New Orleans—adding approximately 1,000 new residents for the last several years—and, of course, births have exceeded deaths as well. City populations decline when net out-migration exceeds the natural increase due to new births. New Orleans’ total population will continue to grow as long as births minus deaths exceeds any loss of population due to migration.

While not alarming, the latest census estimates do suggest that growth of the New Orleans population is now less dependent on returning residents. To be sure, the total population of the metro area will rise and fall with economic growth, but workers and their families will choose the parish they find most attractive to live. New Orleans’ ability to attract additional population will be largely dependent on the availability of affordable housing, reliable transportation to job centers, low crime rates and appealing amenities.

Allison Plyer is executive director and chief demographer of The Data Center in New Orleans. Dr. Plyer is author of The New Orleans Index series, developed in collaboration with the Brookings Institution to track the region’s progress toward prosperity, and she leads The Data Center’s research on the development of the water management cluster in Southeast Louisiana as published in The Coastal Index series.

Categories: The Magazine