Apr 30, 2024 - News

Too many people are dying in Louisiana

Illustration of a large funeral wreath looming over New Orleans.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

When the latest census estimates revealed that the New Orleans metro is leading the nation in population loss, a lot of focus swirled around where people are going.

Why it matters: That attention ignores what might be the biggest problem, says New Orleans Data Center chief demographer Allison Plyer, which is that too many people are dying.

The big picture: The leading causes of death nationwide are heart disease, cancer and a catch-all category of unintentional injury, which includes things like car accidents.

  • But unintentional injury also includes drug overdoses, which became the No. 3 leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2016, Plyer says.
  • Though COVID jumped into the top 3, its influence on death rates has been diminishing.

That wider view is crucial for understanding what's happening in New Orleans, Plyer says, where individual circumstances can impact numbers on a local level.

  • "Maybe somebody got married and moved to St. Tammany, where the population is growing a little bit," she says, "but the whole metro and the whole state has lost population in virtually every single parish, and that's where it really starts to get concerning."
  • Out-migration is a big factor, Plyer says, but "we know death is a significant contributor to population loss."
Death rate before age 75 from preventable causes in Louisiana
Data: The Commonwealth Fund via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: Louisiana has the eighth highest age-adjusted death rate, Plyer says, meaning one that takes into account expected deaths as residents get older.

The bottom line: Population growth in the U.S. is moving slowly, but some cities, like Atlanta and Charlotte, are still managing to pull it off.

  • "You're going to have both effects — winners and losers — if the population as a whole is not growing," Plyer says, "and Louisiana seems to be in the losing category."

Go deeper: Racial health disparities exist in every state, new report says.

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