Governor Buddy Roemer’s Warning on Population Slide


by Elliott Stonecipher

Roemer speaks in AlexandriaMy long-time friend Buddy Roemer spoke last week in Alexandria about our “disappearing” Louisiana, but it was population troubles on which the former Congressman and Governor focused, not our eroding coastline.  Buddy well understands.  He was elected governor at the very time the Oil Bust hammered Louisiana from more directions than some of us knew to look.  He gets this … and knows to sound the alarm.

This is a subject I know well.  In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, I completed a study entitled Louisiana Population History & Trends, and have since presented it to interested audiences throughout the state.  My intention is to better explain both our state’s history of population growth, and the serious public policy implications of our relatively new and increasing population challenges.  One point in the presentation well and simply puts our present circumstance in understandable context:


“Even the Civil War did not damage Louisiana’s population growth like the Oil Bust, or Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Even given the damage to Louisiana of the Civil War, our population grew 2.7% between 1860 and 1870.  In the 1980-1990 decade of the Oil Bust, it grew only 0.33%, and only 1.4% in the 2000-2010 decade of the storms.”

Buddy Roemer dealt each day of his term with the public policy fallout as the Oil Bust left the state with so many fewer people, and so much less revenue.  A more current example mimics that time:  between 2002 and 2012, the percentage of youngest Louisianans, those 24 and under, dropped from 37.5% to 34.6%.  This lifeblood of our state – those who might stay, have children, help build the state’s future for decades and, yes, pay taxes – dropped 2.9% in ten years.  Put more dramatically, that is 87,800 fewer Louisianans to help over decades in stopping the bleeding, then pointing our population and economic trendlines up, maybe for the long haul.

More Definition of the Problem

Actually, there are many, many examples of the point made in the Civil War comparison:

economy-small—  As Buddy mentioned in Alexandria, the combination – in fewer than 20 years – of the Oil Bust and Katrina / Rita cost Louisiana political clout – two of our eight members of Congress, one after the 1990 Census, and yet another after the 2010 headcount.

—  Between the 1980 Census and the Bureau’s most recent estimates through July 1, 2013, Louisiana grew from 4,205,900 to 4,625,470 residents – 10.0%.  Only the populations of West Virginia, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania grew less.

—  Our growth in those three-plus decades is about half that of Mississippi’s 18.7%, and a third of the 29.7% rise in Arkansas.  The Texas population grew more than 8-times as much, 85.9%.  In our South Region of states, the population growth, 57.1%, has been almost 6-times as fast as ours, and the U.S. population has grown 4-times more, 39.6%.

—  None of these facts withstanding, when one puts “Louisiana state demographer” in a search engine, it will not find one, because we do not have one.  Our state’s leaders see no need.

That’s the “What” … Here’s the “Why”

Notwithstanding weighty public policy implications, this issue is deceptively easy to study and understand.  We need only measure births, deaths and migration of people in any place, at and over any time.  Births-minus-deaths is “natural increase,” and “net migration” is the count of residential moves people make into and out of states and nations.

Going Out!
Going Out!

Hard data on births and deaths is gathered at the local level, passed to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), then to the Census Bureau.  The count of how many people move in and out of a place is tracked with data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), based primarily on changes in a person’s residence as reported on their income tax returns and/or federal assistance records.  (SEE details on methodology here.)

Our declining rate of births – remember the example of our drop in youngest residents? – is an alarm gong morphing into a siren.  In the 1990s, our ratio of birth-to-deaths was 1.74 births to a death.  As of July 1, 2013, the ratio had dropped to 1.47-to-1.00.  The ratios in states with population problems at least as severe as ours are:  in Iowa, 1.39-to-1.00; in Michigan, 1.28-to-1.00; in Ohio, 1.25-to-1.00; and, in Pennsylvania, 1.12-to-1.00.

In West Virginia, the only state which has already rolled-over into actual population decline, there are more deaths than births, a ratio of 0.95-to-1.00.  In states with vibrant populations and economies, the ratio is much higher, as in Texas (2.20-to-1.00), Utah (2.20-to-1:00), Colorado (1.99:1.00), and Georgia (1.80-to-1:00).

Since the onset of our population outmigration problem in the 1980s, over 600,000 more Louisianans have lived here and left than those who moved here and stayed.  That’s equal to 13% of our present population.  We are left to imagine how many jobs would have been created, and how much healthier our economy and all it pays for would be, had they stayed with us.

The data doesn't lie.
The data doesn’t lie.

In the data of July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013, Louisiana netted a positive in-migration count of 4,203, but the finding is suspect since the gain was among “foreign” in-migrants.  Included in that Bureau classification are military personnel returning from overseas – they are now counted as they deploy overseas, and again as they return – and those coming and going between here and Mexico.  In the solidly dependable count of people who moved to and from other states, Louisiana lost -2,492 residents.  Michigan’s net loss in the most recent year was -11,051, Ohio’s -7,386, Pennsylvania lost -5,722, and West Virgina -913.  Iowa gained 4,814 new residents.

Louisiana must incentivize population growth through changes in our tax structure.  Given such a need and challenge, and given the disinterest of current state leadership, Governor Roemer’s voice is all the more welcome, and important.

Elliott Stonecipher

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.