The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Counting in the Wake of a Catastrophe: Challenges and Recommendations for the 2010 Census in the Gulf Coast Region.

The Long-Term Demographic Impact of Katrina

The state of Louisiana experienced minimal growth from 2000 to 2005, with the population increasing from 4,468,976 to an estimated 4,495,627 two months before Katrina arrived.  The state lost about a quarter of a million people in the aftermath of the hurricane, dropping to 4,243,634 in 2006.  Even though the state's population is again heading towards its pre-storm level – its 2008 estimate was 4,410,796 – most apportionment projections predict that Louisiana will lose one of its eight congressional districts following the 2010 Census.12

Hurricane Katrina slashed the population of New Orleans (Orleans Parish) by more than half. The census estimate for July 1, 2005, two months before the storm, was 455,046.  The summer after the storm, in July 2006, the estimate was 210,768.  Given that extraordinary loss, it is not surprising that New Orleans shows the largest population loss of any city between 2000 and 2008.  At the same time, it was the fastest-growing city between 2007 and 2008.  And a recent analysis by GNOCDC and the Brookings Institution concluded that New Orleans grew even faster in the past year.  That report concludes that the city's population has now reached 76.4 percent of pre-storm level. 

Adjacent St. Bernard Parish, which extends into the Gulf to the south of Orleans Parish, also took a severe blow from Katrina; its pre-storm 2005 population of about 65,000 plummeted to 14,000 in 2006.  The population of St. Bernard Parish is slowly rebounding and stood at an estimated 37,722 in 2008. 

Plaquemines Parish, to the south of St. Bernard Parish and extending even further into the Gulf, lost a full quarter of its population as a result of the 2005 hurricanes. Prior to the hurricanes, Plaquemines Parish had been growing steadily throughout the decade; its 2000 census count stood at 26,757.  In the aftermath of Katrina, its population dropped from 28,565 people in 2005 (July estimate) to 21,610 in 2006.    The parish's population has not rebounded since then, standing at 21,276 in 2008. 

To the immediate west of Orleans Parish, and further inland, Jefferson Parish saw its numbers drop from 450,848 before the storm to 422,222 in 2006.  Jefferson's population is slowly increasing, to 436,181 in 2008, but had not yet achieved its pre-storm level.

The state of Mississippi, which experienced a small population loss in the year after Katrina (from  2,898,209 to 2,896,713) grew to 2,938,618 in 2008. Three coastal counties – Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson – experienced significant population loss in the aftermath of Katrina, although not of the magnitude of the hardest hit Louisiana parishes.  None of them have yet recovered to their pre-storm levels.  From July 2005 to July 2006, Hancock's population dropped from 46,088 to 38,853 (about 15 percent), increasing to 40,140 in 2008; Harrison dropped from 195,756 to 172,955 (about 12 percent), and stood at 178,460 in 2008; and Jackson fell from 134,243 to 127,961 (about 5 percent), recovering in the subsequent two years to 130,694.

Alabama, with a pre-storm population of 4,537,299, did not experience a statewide loss of population as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  Its population grew by about 50,000 in 2006, and in 2008, stood at an estimated 4,661,900, well above its 2000 census count of 4,447,100. Coastal counties, while sustaining damage from the storm, did not experience the significant population loss of their Mississippi and Louisiana neighbors, suggesting that displaced individuals and families relocated temporarily within the same area or the same county and that recovery and rebuilding progressed far more rapidly than in Katrina-impacted counties in Mississippi and Louisiana.

A forthcoming paper13 by several current and former University of Mississippi researchers and other demographic experts offers a perspective on the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina on population trajectories in hard-hit areas, especially in Louisiana.  They conclude that "Katrina's demographic effects are profound, and may persist well beyond the 2010 U.S. Census."

The authors examined data from 79 ZIP codes at or near the hurricane's epicenter (24 in Mississippi and 55 in Louisiana) to conduct an "impact analysis" that compares current population estimates in these areas with population figures that would have been expected in the absence of Katrina.   Over the entire 79 ZIP codes examined, Katrina reduced the "expected" population by 21.25 percent, or an estimated 311,150 people, as of July 2007. The Black population was reduced by nearly 29 percent, or 155,035 people, while the White population was reduced by about 16.6 percent, or 136,657 people.

In the 55 Louisiana ZIP codes examined, the researchers found that the July 2007 population was an estimated 806,545, about 25 percent below the 1,080,456 population that would have been expected had Katrina not happened.   In the 24 Mississippi ZIP codes examined, the 2007 post-Katrina population was an estimated 346,545, about 10 percent below the expected population (387,633) if the storm had not happened. In Bay St. Louis, one of the hardest hit Mississippi communities, the 2007 post-Katrina population of 10,374 was 45 percent below the expected population (18,760) if the storm had not hit.  Two Mississippi counties, Hancock and Harrison, suffered the greatest demographic consequences.  In the six ZIP codes in low-lying areas in Hancock County, the post-Katrina population was about 32 percent less than what would have been expected in the absence of the storm.  In Harrison County, the post-Katrina 2007 population was 10.5 percent less than otherwise expected.

Next Section: The Changing Racial and Ethnic Landscape

12. See, for example, this prediction from Polidata Demographic and Political Guides: http://www.polidata.org/census/st008nca.pdf.

13. Swanson, D., J. McKibben, L. Wombold, R. Forgette, and M. Van Boening.  2009.  "The Socio-Demographic and Environmental Effects of Katrina: An Impact Analysis Perspective."  The Open Demography Journal (forthcoming).

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