Political Horizons: Numbers suggest continuing outmigration problem

Louisiana loves its rankings.

The state Department of Economic Development devotes a page of its website about moving up on, say, the “improved state for business” tallies of the Pollina Corporate Real Estate Inc., a firm in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Lately, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are popping up on lists for best places for young people to live. The lists include Kiplinger, the business publication.

A couple weeks ago, the personal finance website “Money Under 30” ranked Baton Rouge at fifth and New Orleans at seventh in “The 20 Best Cities in America to be Young, Broke and Single” contest.

It’s called data mining.

“Money Under 30,” for instance, looked at U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics reports and folded in factors, such as the number of bars (111 in Baton Rouge, 390 in New Orleans), percentage of singles and the cost of beer. That’s how they came up with an interesting little article.

The U.S. Census Bureau periodically releases reports about folks and where they live. Mostly, it’s raw numbers with a little context interpretation. The Bureau leaves others to analyze and give meaning to the statistics.

Mark Twain found statistics pliable, while Sherlock Holmes says percentages remain constant.

Last month, for instance, “interim estimates” tracked changes in where people of different races, ages and other demographics live. The charts showed that Louisiana’s estimated population grew between 2010 and July 1, 2012, bringing the total number living in this state to 4.6 million, a 1.5 percent increase.

John M. Couvillon’s JMC Enterprises, a polling and political firm in Baton Rouge, noted in a blog that if that growth rate is sustained throughout the rest of the decade, then Louisiana’s population increase will be at 8 percent by 2020, a rate of growth not seen in the Bayou State since the 1970s.

Elliott Stonecipher, a political consultant from Shreveport, analyzed the same release’s numbers and found that the decades-old problem of Louisiana natives moving elsewhere really hasn’t been solved, as elected officials like to boast. Citing numbers to show how Louisiana’s historic outmigration has stopped on his watch, for instance, is a favored factoid in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s out-of-state speeches.

Last month’s release of Census Bureau data also provided actual numbers for population returns in the parishes that were largely evacuated after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Stonecipher said the Census numbers are evidence of what many had long suspected: The 2005 hurricane diaspora skewed the raw numbers and suggested that population increases in some parishes are largely the resettlement of evacuees.

“Once you know that anyone came back from the hurricanes, then that stops the assertion that the outmigration has reversed,” Stonecipher said.

It should be noted that Stonecipher, who was an adviser to then-Gov. Buddy Roemer, has long flogged Louisiana outmigration as a major, yet unaddressed, political problem. Lately, his criticisms tee off Jindal’s aides, who often respond with detailed — and occasionally personal — criticisms of Stonecipher’s analyses.

The recent Census Bureau numbers estimate that about 236,970 people left Louisiana for other states between July 1, 2005, and the same day in 2006. From 2006 to 2009, the state’s “migration” population was about 67,000 people. From July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012, only about 12,000 people moved here from another state.

For its estimates, the Census Bureau uses documents, such as Medicaid forms and tax returns, to help calculate its “state to state” migration estimates. It uses actual birth and death records to calculate the “Natural Increase” portion of the formula. And the “International Migration” part includes the foreign-born newcomers, as the title suggests, along with “net movement of the Armed Forces population to and from the United States.”

Basically, Stonecipher points out that the “natural increase” and “international migration” gains offset the recent net losses in the “state to state” migration part of the Census Bureau’s estimates.

“It is the natural increase that keeps us in the game,” Stonecipher said. “If you don’t cure the outmigration problem, you’re into net negative, real continuing population loss. That’s the point.”

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@thead