When people think of Louisiana, they think of New Orleans, the state’s largest city and a strategic port historically thanks to its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River. It’s a unique and eccentric melting pot city like no other, with strong Spanish and French influences given that this region was once part of both countries until the U.S. acquired it from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. People descended from these early Spanish and French colonial settlers, as well early black and mixed race residents, are considered “Creole.”
Each year, in February or March, more than a million visitors flock to the “Crescent City” to take part in the exuberant festivities leading up to Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season and the day before Ash Wednesday, which starts the Catholic season of Lent. A state holiday in eight parishes in Louisiana (which is 28% Catholic overall), Mardi Gras is marked by parades, costumes, food (King Cake, anyone?), dancing and numerous parties and balls.
Thanks to this world-famous event, plus the New Orleans Jazz Festival and a year-round atmosphere of celebration and live music in the historic French Quarter, the city is a major U.S. tourist destination. In 2014, more than 9.5 million people visited New Orleans, which is almost triple that of 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina hit. Better yet, they set a new record for tourist spending at $6.8 billion, proving that this is a city fully on the rebound. Accordingly, readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted New Orleans the 5th best big city in the U.S. to visit in 2015.
Even today, you can’t talk about Louisiana with mentioning Katrina, the disastrous category-three hurricane that in 2005 killed over 1,500 people in the state, caused more than $108 billion in property damage regionally and displaced some two million people in both Louisiana and surrounding Gulf Coast states. FEMA calls it “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history.”
With 63% of Katrina property loss claims occurring in Louisiana, local and state officials have been feverishly trying to rebuild neighborhoods and towns one house at a time. While some areas of Louisiana were severely battered and/or flooded, especially New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, others were spared. Rebuilding has meant not only bringing back tourists, but also the Louisiana population and real estate market. Fortunately, all are slowly happening, and in 2014, Louisiana – which had 4.5 million residents prior to Katrina – bested that with over 4.6 million people. The New Orleans metro area (45th largest in the U.S.) is also growing again, with over 1.2 million people as of 2014 and a strong five-year population growth rate of 5.2% since 2010.
Baton Rouge, the state's capital and second largest city, didn't suffer as much wind or water damage, but it also was affected by the disaster. Many evacuees from New Orleans and other coastal communities migrated to Baton Rouge, 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, putting pressure on the city's services, schools and government. In the days and weeks directly after Katrina, the Baton Rouge's population more than doubled. As of 2014, Baton Rouge had a metro area population of over 800,000, with a somewhat slower five-year population growth rate of 2.8%.
In 2015, the median home value in Louisiana was $147,899, roughly $35,000 below the U.S. average. People considering relocating to Louisiana are attracted to both the relatively low cost of real estate as well as the extremely low property taxes, which are the third lowest in the country. (As a bonus, there is no vehicle property tax.) In Baton Rouge, the median home value was $161,242 in 2015, while in New Orleans, it was $200,114.
Given the state’s subtropical climate and average temperature of 69 degrees, small Louisiana cities with an urban flair and roughly 40,000 to 75,000 people are being marketed by the state as great retirement places. Some of those cities include Lake Charles (median home value $135,062), a port city with a significant gambling industry; Alexandria (median home value $131,639), home to the Red River and a large industrial park filled with technology businesses; and Monroe (median home value $126,012), an old cotton port located on the Ouachita River that’s the birthplace of Delta Airlines.
Louisiana is home to a large black population (over 1.5 million), comprising the second largest proportion (32%) of any state after neighboring Mississippi (37%). 62% percent of Louisianans are white, 4% are Hispanic and 1% are Asian. As for ethnicities represented, they include French (10%), German (4%), Irish (4%), English (4%), Italian (3%) and French Canadian (2%). Compared to the rest of the nation, Louisiana's median household income ranks fairly low at $44,872, and 18% of Louisianans are living below the poverty level, the second highest ratio in the U.S. More than 82 percent of the population has a high school diploma, and over 21 percent has a bachelor's degree.