Newcomers’ Ball

New Orleans is constantly attracting new residents — a look at where they’re coming from.

Relatively speaking, those of us living in New Orleans haven’t strayed far from home. According to the most recent census data available in 2012, 74 percent of residents in the New Orleans metro area were born in Louisiana. Compare that to Atlanta — where only 47 percent of residents were born in Georgia, or Houston, where 55 percent of residents were born in Texas — and New Orleans appears to be a place where native ties are fastened tightly.

On the other hand, the city has become a popular destination for people looking to relocate. I’m a native New Orleanian, but many of my new friends, acquaintances and co-workers are from other parts of the country. And even though “transplants” comprise a relatively small percentage of the area’s population, the characterization of New Orleans as an appealing and fashionable place to move has become one of the most prevalent narratives of our recent history.

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To put all this in perspective, I analyzed migration statistics published by the IRS between 1993 and 2012 (the first and most recent years for which the data is available), and compared the number of residents moving to the seven-parish metro area during three periods: the 1990s (1993-1999), the pre-Katrina 2000s (2000-2004), and 2010-2012. (I omitted 2005-2009, since a large number of people relocating to New Orleans during that period were more likely to be those returning to the area after Katrina, thereby distorting the results.)

Some clear patterns emerge from the numbers. First, more people relocated to the metro area from other states from 2010-2012 than in the previous periods. Between 2010 and 2012, an average of over 27,500 people relocated from outside of Louisiana each year during this stretch, compared to about 21,000 in the early 2000s and 23,000 in the 1990s. In Orleans Parish alone, an average of about 10,500 non-Louisianians arrived each year from 2010-2012, compared to 8,000 in the 1990s and 7,300 in the early 2000s.

Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, the overall patterns of migration in the area haven’t changed all that much. From 2010-2012, 42 percent of residents who relocated to a parish within the metro area came from another parish in the metro area (for example, they relocated from Jefferson to Orleans), 15 percent came from another Louisiana parish outside the metro area, and 43 percent came from out of state. This breakdown isn’t dramatically different from the 1990s, when the same proportions were 49 percent, 11 percent, and 40 percent, respectively.

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Put another way, of all people relocating to the New Orleans area, roughly 60 percent are from Louisiana and roughly 40 percent are from out of state. With some minor variations, that trend has held steady over the past 20 years. And this data only includes people who are relocating; the vast majority of residents stay put in any given year.

Finally—and perhaps contrary to public perception—the average income for people who have moved to the area from out of state since 2010 is lower, when adjusted for inflation, than those who relocated here during previous periods. For the entire metro area, newcomers’ average income during 2010-2012 was about 13 percent lower than the 1990s and 15 percent lower than the pre-Katrina 2000s. (In Orleans Parish, income levels for out-of-state newcomers have remained roughly the same.)

Putting these trends together, I think, tells us something important about our region. Newcomers, like natives, are diverse—they span the entire professional, economic, demographic and cultural spectra. For reasons new and age-old, New Orleans is a compelling place to come, whether it’s because of emerging economic sectors, proximity to family, or simply to stake a small claim to our customs. As we always have, we can enhance our region with our hospitality and embrace of those who have come to appreciate, absorb and enrich our unique and celebrated way of life.

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Robert Edgecombe is an urban planner and consultant at GCR Inc. He advises a wide range of clients on market conditions, recovery strategies, and demographic and economic trends.



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