Four Cenla areas re-classified as rural based on 2020 U.S. Census

Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 7:47 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - In a report first published by The Advocate | The Times-Picayune, a change in rules for the 2020 U.S. Census has resulted in the re-classification of 27 Louisiana areas formerly classified as urban.

For the first time since 1910, new U.S. Census rules doubled the population minimum for an urban area, increasing the minimum from 2,500 to 5,000. Now an area below 5,000 is considered rural.

Among those 27 areas included, four are in Central Louisiana: Many, Jena, Bunkie and Cottonport.

Dr. Matt Fannin, a professor in agricultural economics at LSU AgCenter in Baton Rouge, said the new rules can be thought of as population inflation, like price inflation. The change attempts to adjust the “urban character” of today versus that of the mid-1950s.

”If you think about the places in those times, many of these towns would have had a movie theatre, a place that they could buy durable household appliances, new automobiles,” said Fannin. “Many of these don’t anymore. It’s not because their population may have gone down, but the population needed to keep those types of businesses sustainable has gone up. And so, to keep part of that rural character constant, then the Census Bureau increased that threshold.”

As noted in the Advocate, one of the main concerns to come out of the change was whether it would impact those once-urban areas’ eligibility for federal or even state programs. Fannin does not believe that will be the case.

Federal investment programs typically invest in rural populations through the USDA, but those programs focusing on urban areas deal with much larger urban populations. On the state level, Fannin noted the thresholds for programs are typically set around different policies, not population.

“The thresholds for towns and cities and villages aren’t changing,” said Fannin. “So, I don’t see the changes in the designation of going from urban to rural for the municipalities in Central Louisiana, as well as those in other areas of the state, impacting the ability to get resources to support their communities.”

However, what could be a challenge for those rural areas is maintaining the quality of basic necessities like utilities and infrastructure, while also growing business and competition.

“I think what it does do, is it highlights the challenge that, because some of the retail activities and the cost of doing business has a sort of fixed cost, as the result, when you have smaller populations to support both private businesses as well as to support the tax base for public investment in water, roads, sanitation, emergency preparedness, it becomes more challenging to maintain a quality threshold of those basic necessities that you see in these places,” explained Fannin.

Overall, rural populations have increased by about 2% within the last decade. Meanwhile, 42 of Louisiana’s 67 parishes have experienced a loss of population. Louisiana had an increase of just 2.7% in the population, according to 2020 U.S. Census data.

“I think many of the constituencies, whether it’s in the policy arena, the academic arena or others, they’re very concerned about how long run population decline will impact the livability and quality of life of people across the state,” said Fannin.

However, Fannin emphasized the perspective on what a successful area is may need to change.

“If we just use population as a way of saying if we’re winning or losing, we forget about the other factors. If we have a stagnant population, but our average wages and salaries are growing, then the people that are here have more resources to be able to live and invest, spend locally,” explained Fannin. “So, one of the things that we see in different parts of the world is that there are places that have stagnant, declining populations but they have growing wages and salaries and quality of life because they are looking at other strategies to make the people that remain better off.”

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