The US Census Bureau figures for 2021 are a clarion call for Louisiana. As reporter Jeff Adelson noted in his excellent Dec. 22 snapshot, Louisiana is hemorrhaging population as neighboring states maintain long trajectories of population growth. The interpretations offered by the experts in the article miss the mark: neither the weather nor the pandemic is responsible for our demographic dilemma.

The past two years have been exceptionally active for hurricanes, but the stagnation and decline of the population in our state began decades ago. COVID-19 has tragically accelerated the deaths of many of our elderly citizens over the past two years, but it is not unique to Louisiana. Ditto for fertility: low birth rates are a cause for concern in the United States, not just here.

People ultimately vote with their feet. Young people, entrepreneurs and retirees choose other states over ours because our choices at the polls have favored too many candidates who avoid the investments necessary to reverse this wave of depopulation: education, cities, image and immigrants.

Louisiana ranks extremely low for per student spending on higher education (47) and LSU ranks extremely low among national universities (172). Texas and UT rank extremely well for both (6 and 36, respectively), illustrating that a turnaround, while possible, won’t come cheap.

Cities are the economic engines of the economy of any state. For rural Louisianans in the northern half of our state who are pushing their way, we must offer incentives to relocate in or near our major cities, where opportunities are abundant. For the small number of foreigners who move to Louisiana, New Orleans is the main attraction. Its industries, private universities, architecture, healthcare and other urban amenities make it the crown jewel of our state. It needs state funding, in particular for the maintenance of its long neglected infrastructure and the modernization of its public transport system.

Baton Rouge has excellent potential to become a second economic engine. The contrasts between our state capital and Texas are stark. As well as being home to a nationally listed university, Austin is a bustling tech hub with a vibrant nightlife scene. Much of downtown Baton Rouge empties every night, despite an abundance of riches that other cities surely covet. Our Capitol complex is a national treasure. The LSU campus and the surrounding neighborhoods are beautiful. Our Baton Rouge Mississippi Riverfront connects the city with the world. It should boast large parks and glittering towers home to great national companies.

“Everyone comes with the American dream”: why the Hispanic population has grown in Lafayette

Despite the current image of our state, Louisians vote across the political spectrum. Less than one in 10 votes determines whether we lean blue or red.

Yet instead of celebrating our diversity and fostering dialogue, too many of our elected leaders engage in distorting rhetoric that undermines confidence in science and democratic institutions, alienating our best and brightest, and discouraging those in the dark. resources to take us seriously as a new home. Instead, our leaders should be inspired by citizens: What sets Louisiana apart from almost anywhere else is that we know how to get along. For most of us, intense discussions about public health policy or measures usually end with good-humored chops, beers, and a promise to follow.

Giving a more accurate picture of who we are could turn Louisiana into a major destination for families looking for a new home, including immigrants. The benefits of the increased number of Hispanic immigrants coming to our state were noted in later articles in the journal’s Census series. And attracting refugees would echo the state’s recent history. After the Vietnam War, Archbishop Hannan and the Catholic Church wooed Vietnamese refugees to settle in Louisiana, resulting in an influx of thousands of families. These families were typical of immigrants in general: led mainly by young couples of childbearing age with virtually unlimited ambition. It was a proud moment in Louisiana history when citizens came together to help resettle our allies after our common tragedy in Indochina. We should do the same for our allies in Afghanistan who are now preparing to relocate to America.

The time for change is now. If we continue with our current rate of distortion, division, and tax cuts, that rate will continue to synchronize with a surge of exodus.

We need a new song. After all, demographics are fate.

Mark J. VanLandingham is Thomas C. Keller Professor in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University. He is a population researcher and member of the Scholars Strategy Network.