by Elliott Stonecipher
[This Guest Column appeared in The (Shreveport) Times print edition today, Sunday, February 9, 2014, in response to an editorial by The Times which was published on January 26, 2014. I originally prepared the data table included with and referred to in the column – here – for use in an earlier article on the same subject.]-Downloadable Census Table-
The Times recently editorialized about our state’s supposedly rosy picture of population growth. Relying on information included in an official news release from Governor Bobby Jindal, the Times said, “For the sixth consecutive year, the state has seen net population in-migration.” It later added, “Of course, the governor’s office is also pleased, and rightly so. It’s good to have things growing under your watch.”
Yes, indeed, it would be very good news had Louisiana turned the corner on this serious problem which is also an enduring public policy failure. We should all wish Jindal’s claim was accurate and true, but it is actually just one more example of the low and dark art of political uber-spin. A shorthand reminder of the truth is Louisiana’s loss of two members of Congress since 1990, the latest of which followed the recent 2010 Census.
To justify his claim, our governor knowingly withholds other facts as necessary to create a mirage of political wizardry, as he did with his “ethics gold standard” ruse. Jindal forgets to say he is counting the return of Louisianans who temporarily relocated to other states after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. As the nearby table shows, the double-digit “gains” from “in-migration” came in years immediately following. Kathleen Blanco and her Road Home program, no matter how controversial, deserve whatever credit is due.
To understand the underlying facts – all spin and statistical crutches removed – we need count only three life events among our residents – births, deaths and migration, meaning residential moves.
Since the 1980 Census, Louisiana has gained 1,023,956 people by “natural increase,” the number of births minus the number of deaths. When that gain is added to our 1980 population of 4,205,900, the result is 5,229,856 residents. That is what our population would now be if our migration number was neutral, that is, if only as many residents moved out as those who moved in over the period. Instead, as of July 2013, our population is much lower: 4,625,470. The difference is a loss of -604,386 people. So, rather than a migration-neutral population gain of 24.3% since the 1980 Census, our gain has only been 10.0%. Comparing that to the 39.6% national gain over those years refers to those two lost members of Congress.
I admit to a generational, or perhaps cultural, bias in this. It has been, throughout my life and the lives of untold numbers of us, a bedrock belief and motivation. There is no better example of it than President Kennedy’s now-famous exhortation to Americans at Rice University in 1962. In explaining his intention to put an American on the moon before the end of that decade, he said,
” … But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? … We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills …”
A mere seven years after President Kennedy’s challenge to the indescribable better something within us, American astronauts landed on the moon. Imagine a mayor or governor or president today telling us that she or he will lead Americans in doing some things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” We would well serve ourselves and our state to thoughtfully compare President Kennedy’s bold and proud speech about American greatness to Governor Jindal’s wink and nod about impending population decline.
To reverse three decades of population stagnation, Louisianans must incentivize taxpayers living elsewhere to move here. Our tax structure must be changed to do so, but not by throwing some segment of Louisiana’s people under a governor’s political bus.
Louisiana’s population loss going back to 1980 Census data averages 18,315 people a year. That is 50 residents a day, more than 2 per hour, voting with their feet for decades. These sons and daughters and co-workers and friends left for reasons most of us well know and understand. According to our governor, the proper response is to cook the books so he can claim to have miraculously cured our disease.
We should not continue being fooled. It is time for those among us who care to insist on the truth, face facts, and roll-up our sleeves to finally get this job done. It is a job that matters.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.