WASHINGTON - Louisiana appears to be rebounding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, gaining 50,000 residents in the year ending July 1, according to new Census Bureau state population estimates released today.
After the storm hit in August 2005, the bureau estimated that the state had lost 250,000 residents. Despite the most recent gain, the state is far from returning to its former population level of 4.5 million.
The Census Bureau estimate is reached by measuring births, deaths, and migration into and out of each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
In Louisiana, the census estimates a net increase of people moving into the state of 29,000, accounting for more than half the jump.
The fastest-growing states continue to be in the Rocky Mountain region and the Southeast. Texas also is still attracting new residents at a rapid rate.
Nevada returned to the top spot, having increased in population by 2.9 percent to 2.6 million. Nevada held that title for 19 years in a row before being replaced by Arizona last year. Arizona is the second-fastest-growing state according to the current estimate, with a population increase of 2.8 percent to 6.3 million.
Only two states lost population. Michigan's population dipped by three-10ths of a percent, and Rhode Island saw a decrease of four-10ths of a percent. Ohio's growth was virtually flat.
Florida, a state whose economy has been fueled largely by a steady stream of retirees crossing the border each year, gained in population but at a slower rate than usual. It was the 19th-fastest-growing state, increasing in population by 1.1 percent to 18.3 million. In 2006, it ranked ninth with an increase of 1.8 percent.
"If there's one state that's a little surprising, I would say it's Florida," said Greg Harper, a demographer with the bureau.
Besides Nevada and Arizona, other Western states that made the top 10 list for fastest growth were Utah and Idaho, ranked third and fourth. In the Southeast, Georgia was fifth nationally, North Carolina was sixth, and South Carolina was 10th.
Texas, meanwhile, had the seventh-fastest growth by percentage, and tops numerically, having drawn about 500,000 new residents.
California remains the nation's most populous state with about 37 million people. It attracted about 300,000 new residents, second to Texas numerically, but 25th fastest by rate of growth, the same ranking as last year.
The total US population was estimated at 301.6 million as of July 1.
In the spring the bureau will release county population breakdowns, which should give a clearer indication of exactly how many residents have returned to the parishes in and around New Orleans.
Earlier this week, the urban planning consultancy firm GCR & Associates estimated New Orleans's population at 300,000, or about 65 percent of its former population, which was around 455,000.
Greg Rigamer, GCR chief executive and New Orleans native, said people have been coming back to the city at a rate of 3,000 to 4,000 per month, which includes in-state migration. Things are looking up, but the city still suffers from failing infrastructure, poor healthcare and educational services, and a horrific criminal justice problem.
"Things are not all well in New Orleans," Rigamer said. "They are clearly getting better. But it's no time to be popping the champagne corks."
The Constitution requires the Census Bureau to count the population every 10 years. The results are used to allocate seats in the US House of Representatives, as well as electoral votes.
This year's state population estimates are consistent with previous years, showing that high-growth states like Texas will probably gain seats in Congress, while slow-growth states such as Ohio will probably lose seats.