New Orleans is the fastest-growing big city; population increases 8.2 percent in year

New Orleans is the fastest-growing big city; population increases 8.2 percent in year
July 1, 2009
by Michelle Krupa

Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina emptied it of residents, New Orleans is atop the list of fastest-growing large American cities, posting an 8.2 percent jump in population in the year ending July 1, 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released today.

New Orleans added nearly 24,000 residents over that stretch, the seventh-largest gain among America's large cities during that period, the data show. New York City topped the roster, followed by Phoenix, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Antonio and Fort Worth, Texas.

Despite the recent gains, however, New Orleans also experienced the largest population decline among big cities between the April 1, 2000, Census head count and July 1, 2008, the date of the most recent annual estimate. Over that time, the city's population fell from 484,674 to 311,853, a drop of 35.7 percent.

While New Orleans' contraction owes almost entirely to Katrina, other cities shrank as a result of economic forces. Flint, Mich. saw the second-greatest population drop during the period, with a 9.6 percent decrease, followed by fellow Rust Belt decliners Cleveland and Buffalo, N.Y., according to the Census.

Using the population estimates from a year ago, the Census ranked New Orleans 59th in size among the nation's 273 cities with more than 100,000 residents, just ahead of Pittsburgh, but trailing Aurora, Colo.; Bakersfield, Calif.; and Cincinnati, data show.

Other Louisiana cities included in the report include Baton Rouge, which came in 84th. Shreveport made the list at No. 108, and Lafayette was No. 219.

Today's report is the first look at American cities' 2008 populations; the census issued county figures in the spring. Because New Orleans' city limits mirror the parish boundaries, the population figure cited in today's report is the same as the one released in the spring.

Mayor Ray Nagin's policy director, Maggie Merrill, brushed off the steep decline from 2000 to 2008 as "understandable" in light of Katrina's devastation, focusing instead on steady growth that she attributed to the city's relatively strong job and real-estate markets.

"It's a positive sign, showing that we're having a major influx of population as our citizens return and as new people move to New Orleans," Merrill said.

City leaders, however, think the news should be even better.

Merrill said City Hall is preparing to ask the Census to boost its July 1, 2008, population estimate by 8 percent to about 336,000 people.

Working with the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, city officials have reviewed utility and building permit records and have generated what Merrill described as a more accurate population estimate than the Census calculation of 311,853 residents.

In years between decennial person-by-person counts, the Census estimates population by analyzing birth and death records, and information from tax returns to determine migration.

Officials in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes persuaded the Census last year to boost their July 1, 2007, estimates by providing a combination of records of electrical accounts, building permits, mail service and trash-collection sites.

In New Orleans, the figure went from 239,124 to 288,113 people, an increase that City Hall estimated would mean an additional $45.6 million in federal money per year.

Census demographer Greg Harper said that while the 2008 population estimate incorporates the increase of nearly 49,000 residents from the previous year's challenge, it was generated using only the standard measures of births, deaths and migration.

Therefore, he said, City Hall could succeed in challenging the 2008 figure by using utility and building records that were not initially considered by the Census.

"Just because they challenged the 2007 estimate and (the upward adjustment) is in the 2008 estimate does not mean that they can't challenge the 2008 estimate," Harper said.
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