Population displacement dynamics in South Louisiana

Linda Benedict, Schafer, Mark J.  |  4/23/2008 3:23:02 AM

Mark J. Schafer and Makiko Hori

To help understand the dynamics of the displacement of Louisiana’s population following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, LSU AgCenter researchers analyzed data from a survey commissioned by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Louisiana Recovery Authority. The Louisiana Health and Population Survey was designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with input from the U.S. Census Bureau and LSU AgCenter researchers affiliated with the Louisiana Population Data Center. The survey was conducted in 18 parishes in southern Louisiana in 2006. The results led to new information on the extent of displacement (1) out of the most devastated regions, (2) into the capital area and other receiving parishes and (3) from residences but within the same parish. The 18 parishes were Ascension, Calcasieu, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, Iberia, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Vermilion and Washington.

The U.S. Census Bureau, the most common source of population and demographic data, publishes annual estimates for all counties in the United States. For Louisiana’s parishes, the easiest way to calculate net effects of the hurricanes would be to subtract the 2005 figure from the 2006 estimates to obtain a net migration number for each parish. Net migration estimates, however, are insufficient for several reasons.
  • Net migration does not show how many people moved out of and how many moved into any given parish.
  • The net migration does not provide any information on movement within parishes.
  • Census data could not be used to distinguish between displacement due to the hurricanes versus nonstorm-related migration, including in-migration to support recovery efforts.
  • Census estimates are generally reliable under normal circumstances, whether a particular parish has been witnessing population growth, stagnation or decline. Their reliability, however, is questionable in unusual circumstances such as the 2005 hurricanes, which resulted in catastrophic migration patterns. For example, the census incorporated the effect of 2005 hurricanes into 2006 annual population estimates by using data from the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address (NCOA) file.
The Louisiana Health and Population Survey provided better estimates of overall displacement dynamics to augment census estimates. It does not, however, provide the longitudinal type of data necessary to understand the pace of recovery and repopulation. Still, the LPHS data allow us to move beyond net migration to estimate additional dimensions of displacement dynamics:
  • Out-migration from the most severely damaged parishes.
  • In-migration to the capital area.
  • Broad displacement dynamics for the buffer parishes.
The buffer parishes like Jefferson and St. Tammany had high levels of all three displacement types – out-migration, inmigration and intra-parish movement. Because the census estimates reporting net migration may not show much change from 2005 to 2006, these are the parishes where the true dynamics of population change are most likely to be both understated and misunderstood.

Out-migration from severely damaged parishes
Three parishes in southeastern Louisiana – Plaquemines, Orleans and St. Bernard – were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Cameron Parish in southwestern Louisiana was severely damaged by Hurricane Rita. Policy makers needed to learn how many people had been displaced from the severely damaged parishes and where they went.

Table 1 shows the estimated number of in-migration, outmigration and net migration (in-migration minus out-migra- tion) for each parish. The “in” column estimates the number of new residents, primarily working in recovery-related industries like construction and debris removal. All four parishes have negative net migration figures, meaning the out-migration is greater than in-migration. But the table also shows the census figures, which most closely correspond to net migration, understate the number of people displaced from these parishes because the census does not subtract the recovery workers who moved in since the hurricanes.

Out-migration from New Orleans
Table 2 contains even more detailed information about where Orleans Parish migrants went. More than two-thirds of the evacuees went outside the surveyed parishes, either elsewhere in Louisiana or out of state. Jefferson Parish received the largest number of storm-related Orleans Parish out-migrants at 45,000, while another 23,000 relocated to the capital area and 9,000 to the North Shore region.

Even more important, about 54,700 residents moved within the parish. Within-parish movement is another aspect of displacement not picked up by annual census estimates. In comparison to residents from other parishes, Orleans’ out-migrants were scattered broadly around the state and to other states.

The capital area includes East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston and St. Helena parishes. The North Shore area includes Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and Washington parishes. The other parishes surveyed were Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Vermilion, Iberia, Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Charles. “Other” includes outside the surveyed area and out-of-state.

In-migration: Movement to capital area
Only a few residents of East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, but these parishes received a large number of evacuees from affected parishes. A considerable number remained in the capital area one year later.

Table 3 shows almost 75,000 people migrated into the capital area between July 2005 and July 2006. Surprisingly, only 44 percent of the new residents came from the parishes most affected by the 2005 hurricanes. Baton Rouge was also a popular destination for those from other parts of the state and from out of state, moving for reasons not related to the 2005 hurricanes. Although more than half of all new residents (58%) indicated their move to the capital area was hurricane-related, still a large number of new migrants to the capital area moved for nonhurricane reasons. This survey finding is consistent with longer-term data showing population increase in the Baton Rouge area.

This more detailed analysis of in-migration helps to distinguish between normal migration and hurricane-specific migration, both of which contributed to the growth trend in the capital area from 2005-2006. Unfortunately, because this survey represents a snapshot view at one particular time, it only partially helps predict future population trends in these areas.

Displacement dynamics in ‘buffer’ parishes
The parishes nearest to New Orleans – Jefferson and St.Tammany in particular – were the ideal place for displaced residents to gain access to their old homes and businesses after the storm. Similarly, Calcasieu Parish was an ideal staging ground for residents of Cameron Parish to relocate after Hurricane Rita. These places were also ideal locations for those who went to assist with recovery of the most damaged regions. These “buffer” parishes also sustained significant hurricanerelated damages themselves, causing their own residents to both move to other parishes or to other residences within these parishes.

By simply comparing the post-storm to pre-storm overall population figures, it would appear that Jefferson lost about 22,000 residents while St. Tammany gained about 9,500. The reality, however, is very different. More than five times as many people in both of these parishes were forced out of their homes. Almost 85,000 people left Jefferson Parish in the year after the storm, and another 22,000 relocated within the parish. Similarly, St. Tammany’s net gain of 9,500 belies the fact that more than double that number left the parish, and 47,000 were forced to relocate within St. Tammany Parish. Local, state and federal policy makers need to understand the true dynamics of this displacement to adequately assess the impact on Louisiana’s population and to provide needed services to those affected.

(This article was published in the winter 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
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