Report: New Orleans population grows

Published 6:26 pm Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Orleans’ population reached about 262,000 people in May, 58 percent of the pre-Hurricane Katrina level, in spite of continuing challenges with affordable housing, health care and crime, a report released Wednesday shows.

Demographer Greg Rigamer, who released the report that’s based largely on utility hookups, said he expects more people will return this summer. But he doesn’t anticipate the population to hit 300,000 by year’s end.

That’s a threshold Mayor Ray Nagin last week said he believed the city had already neared, if not crossed. The city, he said, is in a “growth phase,” underscoring the need for improved infrastructure — roads, water and sewage lines, public buildings — to support the residents coming back or otherwise moving in.

In a statement late Wednesday, Mayor Ray Nagin said Rigamer’s estimates “confirm that our population continues to increase and that our city and our communties are strongly recovering.”

However, Nagin notes that the study does not take into account large numbers of migrant workers currently living in New Orleans. He said when those numbers are counted, “our population exceeds 300,000.”

Rigamer said the latest figures show the recovery had not plateaued, as earlier findings suggested. He said data he’d received from late last year to early this year had indicated a leveling-off. But he said it was later discovered that new accounts were not being added to the data he was receiving.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated New Orleans’ population in July 2006 at about 223,000. Rigamer’s estimate at that time was slightly higher, by about 2,000 people. His figures also show the population gained about 6,800 residents between March and May of this year.

“The resettlement patterns and population trends in New Orleans clearly illustrate that a recovery is occurring,” the report says.

While that report shows the city gaining nearly 39,000 residents between July 2006 and May 2007, the population of the two council districts including areas like the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward, Gentilly and eastern New Orleans still hovered near one-third of that in the 2000 census.

There were about 455,000 people in New Orleans in July 2005, the month before Katrina hit and flooded most of the city. Remnants of the disaster still exist in some neighborhoods, and the city is grappling with issues ranging from violent crime and an ailing health care system to helping rebuild a public school system and provide affordable housing.

The city council last week approved a rebuilding blueprint for New Orleans. The city’s recovery director is trying to secure funding for his targeted, smaller-scale version of that plan.