Sam Hanna Jr.

Last month the U.S. Census Bureau released population estimates for each state in the Union. The report was based on the population count throughout the United States as of July 1, 2018.

Needless to say, the report paints a stark picture for Louisiana, particularly northeastern Louisiana including its largest parish, Ouachita. The bottom line is Louisiana’s population hasn’t grown much since the 2010 Census was taken while population growth in northeastern Louisiana has been nonexistent. In fact, every single parish in northeastern Louisiana, except Ouachita and Lincoln, has lost residents since the 2010 Census.

In 2010, Ouachita Parish’s population stood at 153,720. By July of 2018, Ouachita’s population had grown to 154,475, but from 2017 to 2018, some 1,282 residents had left Ouachita Parish. In one year.

Alarming, to say the least.

Statewide, Louisiana’s population checked in at 4,533,372 in 2010. As of July 1 of last year, the state’s population had reached 4,659,978, but that figure represented a decline of about 11,000 residents from the year prior.

Take your pick in naming the issues or problems that thwart Louisiana’s growth in population. If we could set aside our partisan differences for a moment, I believe we all could agree the lack of economic opportunities, particularly for younger people, could be identified as the primary reason why Louisiana is not growing population-wise.

You could look at the 2010 Census figures for Louisiana compared to 2018 and argue the state’s population grew over that eight-year period. That would be missing the point, though. Yes, Louisiana’s total population was slightly higher in 2018 compared to 2010, but the state’s population growth, or lack thereof, pales in comparison to just about every state in the Union, particularly our neighbors to the west, Texas. Yet, big things are happening in Texas, including a booming oil and gas industry as well as dynamic growth in many economic sectors in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, greater Houston and Austin, which jokingly (or not) has been renamed the Silicon Valley of the southwest.

Back in Louisiana, the reality of it all is the state is still largely dependent on the oil and gas industry and the petrochemical industry to drive the economy. Let’s not forget about agriculture, the lifeblood of northeastern Louisiana.

While the sky’s the limit these days in the oil patch in west Texas, the same can’t be said for Louisiana. The oil and gas boys blame Louisiana’s litigious climate for the decline in the oil industry in the Bayou State. Don’t buy it. That’s a copout. The bottom line is it’s far less expensive to get oil and gas out of the ground in west Texas than it is in Louisiana. In other words, the profit margins are better over there than they are here. It’s that simple.

So, when the oil industry isn’t kicking in Louisiana, fewer Louisianians have jobs. When the farm belt isn’t prosperous like it is now, there’s less money to go around, and that represents a big problem in our rural communities. Ask a banker at a community bank in Concordia or Tensas or Franklin or Richland parishes.

About the only region in Louisiana that’s experiencing any economic growth these days is in the Lake Charles area. That’s only because of the growth of the liquified natural gas industry. If there’s one thing we have plenty of in Louisiana, that’s natural gas, not to mention the pipelines to move it and the ports to export to other areas of the world.

The Baton Rouge area is percolating thanks to an Exxon refinery plant and a host of other petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River. But the biggie in Baton Rouge is government spending. Think about it. The state capitol and all of the government bureaucracy that it entails calls Baton Rouge home, and there are two state universities located there as well, LSU and Southern. With all of that government money circulating in the economy, how could anyone go broke in Red Stick?

Now that we’ve gotten the “good” news out of the way, there exists a political price to be paid for Louisiana’s abysmal population growth, assuming the current trend continues through the 2020 Census. That price will rear its ugly head during congressional redistricting.

Since Louisiana can’t lay claim to robust population growth over the past decade, it’s entirely possible the state will lose a congressional district after the people counters have put their final touches to the 2020 Census. At the very least, north Louisiana politicos should prepare for the idea of just one congressional district for all of north Louisiana. I can envision it now. Draw a line across the state from the Louisiana/Texas border to the Mississippi River, just north of Alexandria, and everything to the north to the Louisiana/Arkansas line would be what you get when you consolidate the Fourth and Fifth congressional districts. And it’ll be a district a Democrat can win in, too, since whites will make up about 60 percent of the district’s voters while minorities will account for about 40 percent of the vote. All a Democrat has to do to win in a district like that one is sew up the black vote and lock down one out of every five white votes.

All of that, my friends, is what we’ll get for flushing a decade down the drain. Just another decade lost to missed opportunities. I’m just not sure what they were.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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