Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Orleans Grows; Florida Cools

New Orleans is slowly beginning to rebound from the severe population losses inflicted by Hurricane Katrina, according to new census data, but growth in a number of previous hot spots slowed in the 12-month period that ended July 1, 2007. Broward County in Florida, which includes Fort Lauderdale, lost population for the first time.

“We don’t have as many families moving in, employment has leveled off and started to decline, and housing costs are out of line with reality,” said Bill Leonard, senior planner with Broward’s planning services division.

Other Florida counties were similarly affected. Palm Beach recorded zero growth since 2006, and Miami-Dade registered the lowest growth rate in years.

“Previous hot spots, in Florida, the Mountain West and exurbs, cooled off dramatically,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. “At the same time, areas that supplied them with migrants — coastal California, cities in the Northeast and Midwest and inner suburbs — held on to a larger number of them.”

He added that because of the weakness in the economy, young families and retirees who might otherwise have relocated “are hanging tight in more stable parts of the country waiting to see what comes next.”

That could explain greater gains or reduced losses, compared with 2005-6, in places like the counties of San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, San Francisco and Santa Clara in California and in inner suburbs and urban core counties like Middlesex, N.J.; Cook, Ill.; Fairfax, Va.; Hennepin, Minn.; and Philadelphia.

Except for Kendall, near Chicago, the nation’s 10 fastest-growing counties and parishes were in the West and South. More than a third of the 100 fastest growing were in Georgia or Texas.

The top 10 list was led by St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes in Louisiana, which grew by 43 percent (almost 6,000 people) and 14 percent (nearly 29,000), respectively. St. Bernard Parish’s population last July was estimated at nearly 20,000, compared with 65,000 in mid-2005 before Hurricane Katrina struck. Orleans Parish’s was 239,000, compared with 454,000 in 2005. (A spokesman for Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans said that demographers working for the city had estimated the population of Orleans Parish at closer to 300,000.)

Maricopa County in Arizona, which includes Phoenix, swelled by 102,000 since 2006, making it the biggest gainer numerically. But Maricopa and Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston, gained far fewer people moving from elsewhere in the country than they had the year before.

Since 2000, nearly twice as many counties in the United States sustained population declines as in the 1990s. Mark Mather, deputy director of domestic programs for the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan research group, said that 85 percent of them were nonmetropolitan counties, “mostly areas that are highly dependent on manufacturing, farming or mining.”

Since 1950, the populations of more than 100 rural counties in the Midwest and Texas have shrunk by half or more. “If current trends continue, these counties would be empty by 2050,” Mr. Mather said. “The weak economy since 2000 may be pushing people back to metropolitan areas to find jobs with decent wages.”

In the New York City area, growth slowed, with the biggest numerical and proportional losses in Nassau County and the biggest gains in Staten Island and Manhattan (which grew by more than 8,000, accounting for more than half the state’s gains). New York City officials routinely challenge the census data, arguing that it undercounts minorities and immigrants.

In many counties that otherwise would not have grown or would have suffered greater losses, an influx of foreigners and immigrant births compensated for the departure of native-born residents or for a relatively low rate of natural increase in births over deaths. “This is especially true,” Mr. Mather said, “for the core counties of big cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York.”