LA population drop is not a good sign

Editor’s note: The following commentary was authored by Allison Plyer and Robert Habans, both with The Data Center of Southeast Louisiana. Plyer is the former chair of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee, and Habans is chief economist at The Data Center.
Louisiana’s population loss is troubling because it suggests that the cost of living is out of balance with the quality of life and economic opportunity.
A growing population usually implies a dynamic economy, more opportunities for workers and local businesses and more tax revenues for state and local governments to fund basic services and infrastructure. A falling population raises questions.
While there is much that we don’t know about what is driving population loss, it helps to focus on the basics of population change: births, deaths, in-migration and outmigration.
Since 2020, the nation had 8% more births than deaths, but Louisiana had only 2% more births than deaths. This is surprising given that Louisiana is the 14th youngest state in the nation, where one would expect more births and fewer deaths. But Louisiana suffers one of the highest age-adjusted death rates of all states.
In 2022, Louisiana had the 8th highest age-adjusted death rate, behind only West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama. Louisiana also ranks highly in overdose deaths, firearm suicides and pregnancy-related deaths.
Louisiana ranked 6th out of the 15 states that experienced negative net migration between 2020 and 2022. For every 10 Louisiana residents who moved to another state in 2022, only seven new residents came from other states to replace them. It’s hard to say conclusively why the balance tips toward outmigration, but when Americans do move long distances, the most common reason is for work opportunities and the second most common reason is family-related.
Louisiana has lost population every year since 2016, coinciding with rough conditions in the oil and gas industry in the mid-2010s and sluggish job growth since. In the decade between the post-financial crisis low point in 2010 and the pandemic job loss of 2020, U.S. employment grew by 17%. Louisiana added 6% to employment over the same period — all of it by 2015 when the state was keeping good pace with the nation’s recovery. It’s clear that Louisiana needs less dependence on its volatile energy sector, but diversifying the economy is easier said than done.
Ample literature links educated workforces with growth, yet Louisiana’s higher education appropriation (per full-time equivalent student) was 32% lower in 2022 than in 2008. Instead, business tax incentives are a priority strategy for economic growth in Louisiana, but research on tax incentives concludes that their benefits do not necessarily outweigh their costs. Of course, we rarely evaluate whether our growth-oriented policies make Louisianans better off. And ultimately, short-term wins and losses on growth may mean little in the long game.
Population loss will be a challenge for Louisiana, but even when Louisiana has enjoyed population growth, it hasn’t necessarily translated into widespread economic opportunity or improved quality of life for all residents.
In fact, rapid growth can strain resources, exacerbate inequalities and undermine long-term sustainability, and growing states are not necessarily on the path to sustainable, broad-based prosperity. As we look to diagnose and cure what ails Louisiana’s population trends, let’s not lose focus on helping the people who live here to thrive. Will our leaders have the will to do what it takes to spur growth in Louisiana in a way that translates into widespread economic opportunity and improved quality of life for all residents?

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