Katrina and Rita Impacts on Gulf Coast Populations: First Census Findings

An analysis of the first U.S. Census Bureau data regarding the demographic impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the population of the Gulf Coast region finds that:

  • Hurricane-impacted areas of the Gulf Coast sustained both population gains and losses over the last half of 2005, with the biggest losses experienced by the New Orleans metropolitan area. Orleans Parish, LA lost almost two-thirds of its population during this period, and adjacent St. Bernard Parish, LA lost a stunning 95 percent of its inhabitants. Meanwhile, counties in both the Houston and Baton Rouge metro areas experienced big population gains.

  • In the New Orleans metropolitan area, hurricane-induced loss produced a population that was more white, less poor, and more transitory than the pre-hurricane population. These changes resulted from the disproportionate out-migration, and slower return, of lower-income and black residents from the entire metropolitan area after the storms.

  • In contrast, counties along the Mississippi coast lost a sizeable share of their white residents and homeowners after the hurricane, while other Gulf Coast metro areas, especially those that gained residents, experienced little overall shifts in their demographic profiles. While Baton Rouge gained population, the overall shift in its demographic make-up has been comparatively slight, suggesting minimal impact from New Orleans evacuees.

This analysis provides a “baseline” portrait of the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on population shifts and changing characteristics in the Gulf Region in the immediate months after the storms hit.