Columnist Geoff Daily explores Lafayette’s economy and government, providing critical commentary about what’s working and what’s not.

Column: Lafayette’s population donut is growing. Let’s savor the opportunity.

Remember Lafayette’s population donut? Well, it’s getting bigger. 

Or maybe more clearly stated: The population in Lafayette Parish is growing while parishes around it shrink and the city of Lafayette stalls. 

Here’s (roughly) what that looks like, with green indicating population growth and red indicating decline or stagnation:

Map in red in green showing how population is distributed

The latest census estimates bear that trend out further. From 2020 to 2023, neighboring parishes shrank 1-5%, with the exception of Vermilion Parish, which held steady. Lafayette Parish grew 3.3% overall. (City-level data isn’t included in these annual estimates.)  

Lafayette Parish is growing relatively briskly, faster than the national average. Also, compared to Louisiana, Lafayette is among the top 10 fastest growing parishes in terms of rate and the fastest overall in gross numbers. It’s also the only parish with more than 200,000 residents that grew significantly over this timespan.

These estimates are extrapolated based on small sample sizes. So their margin of error is much larger than the decennial census itself. But they’re still useful to identify overall trends. So we should couch any enthusiasm with some caveats. 

But this is still generally good news, which regular readers may be surprised to find in this column. Wasn’t it just last week that I wrote about how Lafayette was one of the worst-performing large cities in the U.S.? 

Here’s a tidbit I left out of that last piece about the Milken Institute’s Best Performing Cities Report. While Lafayette may have ranked 196 out of 200, Shreveport ranked 199 and New Orleans ranked 200. Baton Rouge did a bit better at 155, but that’s still in the bottom quartile.

So any measure comparing Lafayette’s performance to the state is naturally skewed by this overall downward curve. And some amount of Lafayette’s growth can be attributed to people leaving other parts of Louisiana. It’s likely substantial given overall state trends, but we don’t know the exact proportion. Whether it’s for economic reasons or to flee a storm, Lafayette has historically served as a safe harbor for our neighbors.

Even in our economically diminished state, the fact that people are still moving to Lafayette is a sign we’re still an economic beacon. A place that offers hope to people for a better life than wherever they’re coming from.

I wanted to dive a bit deeper into understanding what’s going on with this population growth. So I dove into the trusty Research Library built and maintained by the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. And I discovered some interesting nuggets.

Jobs appear to be growing somewhat faster than the population

According to this data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it appears that the number of jobs available per person in Lafayette increased from 2020 to 2023.

I’ve calculated that by looking at the growth of Lafayette Parish’s labor force — which is the working age population either working or looking for work — compared to the number of employed people:

Labor Force112,938116,4963,558

Unfortunately, this number is worse than it looks because of the aberration that was 2020. The number of employed people in 2019 was 108,781, which would lower the increase to a bit over 4,000. So it doesn’t appear that an overabundance of jobs is attracting people. But at least the number of employed people is keeping up with the growth of the labor force.

Housing is growing faster than the population

According to this demographic data from ESRI, more housing is getting built inside Lafayette city limits than is needed based purely on its population growth:

Housing Units58,64061,0522,412

So what this is saying is that there were almost 1,000 more housing units added to Lafayette Parish than there were households from 2020 to 2023. 

That’s somewhat surprising given our lack of affordable housing. But this also could indicate a disconnect between the type of supply and what’s needed in our housing market.

In other words, there’s enough new housing being built in Lafayette to keep up with our population growth overall. It’s just not the kind of affordable housing that social service groups say we need. As a result, overall vacancy rates have actually increased according to this data, while the availability of affordable housing options is extremely low.

Lafayette is getting more diverse

Another interesting discovery I made while perusing that ESRI data was not only that Lafayette’s getting more diverse, but how significant that trendline is.

Race2010202020232010-2023 Difference
Non-White or Mixed67,98388,48293,02725,044

The main ethnicities driving this change in demographics are Hispanic (from 3.9% of the population to 7.1%) and multiracial households (from 1.6% to 5.9%). And this trend doesn’t seem likely to decelerate. Between 2020 and 2023, almost 60% of the overall population growth was non-white or multiracial.

This is good news, even with its caveats

The fact that Lafayette Parish is growing is generally a good thing. Even if it’s coming at the expense of other parts of our region and state. 

While everyone likes to talk about working together, the reality is that every community is ultimately in competition with each other — especially when it comes to where people decide to live. And it appears that at least compared to our competitors in Louisiana, Lafayette’s still got an edge.