St. Bernard, Orleans among nation's fastest-growing counties, Census Bureau says
St. Bernard Parish is the nation's second fastest-growing county, and Orleans Parish is No. 9, according to new population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The estimates show St. Bernard swelled by 3,661 people between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, a jump of 10.2 percent.
Over that same period, New Orleans gained 16,911 residents, a jump of 4.9 percent, the bureau estimated. That puts the city's current population at 360,740 -- roughly three-quarters of what it was a decade ago.
The recent gains, of course, are mostly attributable to Hurricane Katrina and its attendant flooding, which essentially emptied out the city and St. Bernard Parish in 2005. The two parishes were among America's fastest-shrinking between the 2000 and 2010 decennial head counts, according to the Census Bureau, but during the latter part of the decade and the first part of this decade they have been among the fastest gainers as the area's recovery continues.
Allison Plyer of the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, which tracks census data and other demographic indicators, said the estimates seem accurate. They closely track the increases she's seen in the number of households receiving mail in New Orleans. In fact, Plyer said, those gains have continued into 2011, meaning the current population is likely closer to 368,000.
"I was kind of excited" to see the new numbers, Plyer said. "It's a big jump, but it's also dead on with what we've seen with mail delivery."
Population growth has remained surprisingly robust more than six years after Katrina, Plyer said. Since 2008, the annual growth rate in the city has hovered at between 4 percent and 6 percent, which she attributes to a regional economy that is in better shape than much of America.
Elsewhere across the metro area, Plaquemines Parish posted a gain of 2.5 percent with an estimated 23,628 people as of 2011, and St. Tammany Parish grew by 1.3 percent, with an estimated 236,785 residents. St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes both lost a handful of residents from 2010 to 2011, with their latest tallies at 52,517 and 45,221, respectively.
East Baton Rouge Parish remained Louisiana's most populous parish, with 441,438 residents, followed by Jefferson Parish, where the population count remained virtually unchanged between 2010 and 2011. An estimated 432,640 people called Jefferson Parish home last year, the bureau estimated.
The population of the seven-parish New Orleans region grew by 2 percent -- to 1,191,089 last year -- while Louisiana's population grew a bit more slowly, to 4,574,836 people in 2011.
The eight American counties that grew faster than Orleans Parish are all significantly smaller than New Orleans, according to the bureau. Atop the list was tiny Charlton County, Ga., a few miles northwest of Jacksonville, Fla., which grew by 1,251 residents, a gain of 10.3 percent.
The 10th fastest-growing county in America -- Williamson County, Texas -- was the first one on the list with a larger population than New Orleans. The county is just north of Austin.
The estimates released Thursday use the 2010 census as a baseline, then apply birth and death rates and migration data to determine the population. They have no bearing on congressional apportionment, but they are often are used to determine how billions of dollars in federal money are distributed for social aid, construction and other programs.
The census estimates have come under fire from local leaders in recent years. Former politicians, including New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard and St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro all filed formal challenges to the bureau's 2007 figures, saying they grossly underrepresented the number of people who had returned.
The challenges succeeded.
The bureau bumped up its 2007 estimate for New Orleans by nearly 50,000 people, revising the figure to 288,113 residents. For 2008, the number was increased from 311,853 to 336,644.
In St. Bernard, the jump was proportionally even larger. The bureau revised its 2007 population estimate for the parish upward by 69 percent, from 19,826 residents to 33,439.
The Jefferson Parish increases were relatively modest, but officials said they expected to receive $18 million in extra federal aid each year as a result. The census later boosted its 2008 estimates for Orleans and Jefferson parishes as well.
The changes may have been overly generous. When the bureau concluded its decennial census in 2010, it found New Orleans actually had 11,021 fewer people in 2010 than the bureau had estimated for 2009.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said last year that he was prepared to challenge the Census Bureau's figures again if the estimate for 2011 seemed to low. Ryan Berni, a Landrieu spokesman, said this morning that the administration will not challenge the new figure.
Staff writer Michelle Krupa contributed to this report. Gordon Russell can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3347.
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