By Elliott Stonecipher
Of the many things we can honestly say about Gov. Bobby Jindal, one is that he is the undisputed master of political spin. Quite literally, the governor has taught us that what he says is actually only an invitation to locate and understand what he did not.
There is no better example of this sad circumstance than our governor’s loud and proud misrepresentation of facts about our state’s population outmigration problem. Beginning in the 1980s, this stampede to Louisiana’s many exits has directly caused, among other things, the loss of two Louisiana members of the U. S. House of Representatives, one after the 1990 Census, and the other following our nation’s 2010 count.
Here is a table we prepared to show the most recent eleven years of Census data on this subject, some of which are before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and some after. The population migration data are shown in the three right-hand columns. The reader will see various population loss numbers in red throughout the table.
In response to these recently released data, here is what our governor said:
“For the sixth consecutive year, Louisiana has experienced net population in-migration, with more people moving into Louisiana than leaving the state. . . . The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest measure of population patterns continues a healthy trend for Louisiana after the state experienced a quarter-century of migration losses, with more people leaving Louisiana than moving into the state for 25 years in a row.”
Jindal’s claim to have solved Louisiana’s outmigration problem is over the line which separates spin from deliberate untruth. (Can anyone say “ethics gold standard”?) In point of fact, Governor Jindal forgets to say that his claim rests on an assertion that no Louisiana residents who had to move due to the hurricanes ever returned. These returnees are the bulk of those Jindal says are six consecutive years of “net population in-migration.”
The governor’s advantage in making such a claim is that the underlying data – the IRS count of residential moves reflected on any given federal tax return – cannot, of course, know or document the reason for a change in residence. These IRS data show the number of people – actually the number of tax return exemptions claimed – who every year move out of any given state and the number who move into it. The Census Bureau adds additional data / adjustments from other sources, and the count shown in the table results.
If there was, in fact, any return of Louisiana residents temporarily moved out by the hurricanes, then they are returnees. They are not in-migrants who personify Jindal’s foolish claim of miraculously curing our outmigration curse.
As Governor Jindal knows very well, actual population loss is not the lone measure of this issue. The issue, too, is how Louisiana compares to other states in context, and those two lost members of Congress since 1990 bear loud testimony of that comparison.
Population outmigration in Louisiana is among our state’s most damaging problems, and its ignorance one of our most notable public policy failures. Jindal’s assertion that he, by mere proclamation, has made the problem disappear is a new low for us . . . and for him.