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Economic refugees from the state of Louisiana

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The inspiration for this post is from what on the surface is a pretty light and off-topic comment to my recent post about my eBay crap:

Stumbled upon your website today and then was looking at your recent posts, clicked on your ebay items and say your name at ebay is lsutigerfan…Go Tigers! Originally from LSU and now in Orlando.. waiting to go home one day! Good luck with your blog here.

Normally this type of comment would be the type to bring a smile to your face but not something worthy of its own posting in reply. However, being originally from Louisiana myself and having just helped my brother-in-law (also from Louisiana) and his wife move into their apartment here in Houston, I thought it would be a good opportunity to post about what I call the economic refugees of Louisiana.

Nowadays when you hear about people from Louisiana that have settled elsewhere many assume that we were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and had to start our lives anew because we had nothing left there to go back to. There were many that were in that situation, and our hearts go out to them, but I am talking about others who left Louisiana not due to the damage caused by a natural disaster but the damage caused by the disaster of the state’s reputation of political corruption and poverty. Louisiana was going down the tubes well before Katrina. And with the destruction of infrastructure and the continued political leadership of such characters of Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (you can’t run a state like you do a tourism campaign), the indicted US Rep. William Jefferson, and Mr. Chocolate City himself Mayor Ray Nagin, we are certainly not on the road to an improvement of that situation.

I left Louisiana in 2001 upon graduating from LSU because I couldn’t find suitable employment in Louisiana. My wife left Louisiana in 2003. My oldest brother-in-law left in 2006, the next oldest moved out just a few weeks ago for the same reasons. Of my friends from college, only one has stayed in Louisiana. All of the others left Louisiana upon getting a degree to pursue opportunities elsewhere. So many LSU graduates have left Louisiana for Houston that there is now a Houston and a North Houston LSU Alumni Chapter, as a single chapter could not meet the needs of all of the alumni here.

The issue has been noted amongst columnists and journalists in Louisiana for years. In 2002, The Baton Rouge Advocate ran a twelve-part series discussing the loss of the best and brightest of Louisiana and the impact it would have in the years to come. Unfortunately their archives online don’t go back that far so I can’t post it here, but it is a great read for anyone interested in the subject. There was also a column by Dr. Chris Warner on PoliticsLA.com in 2003 discussing the topic, which is linked here. One of the overriding themes of the piece is that one of the big factors in the exodus is the lack of jobs, which was explained with the following:

Chief operating officers of firms looking to locate or relocate their business operations normally focus on four distinct areas of location criteria: 1) An equitable tax structure that does not overly tax business; 2) A well-educated work force; 3) A quality of life that is attractive for the firm’s upper-level managers and their families, 4) and a sound infrastructure that enables them to transport their goods and services efficiently.

In Louisiana, it is debatable whether or not we have any of the aforementioned criteria for business location met.

A couple of interesting quotes from the article:

Chief Legislative Fiscal Officer Johnny Rombach: “Right now, the 22 to 30 year olds are the ones leaving Louisiana. However, during the next 5 to 10 years, it’s going to be their retiring parents–the baby boomers—who will be leaving. People stick around in Louisiana for basically two reasons—the jobs they have, and their families. Many of the boomers’ kids have already left the state. Where do you think the parents are going to go once they retire?

Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer: “An entire generation now—it’s been over 25 years since the rise of Edwin Edwards in Louisiana–and we continue to see the net migration of our brightest professionals; of people voting with their feet. In many ways, Louisiana is a better state to live in, than to work in.”

That Louisiana is a better state to live in than work in is a sentiment shared by many of us originally from Louisiana. The people and culture of the state of Louisiana make it a wonderful place to live, but it is hard to take advantage of that when you are paid 20-30% less for the same work as you would be in Texas, if you can even find work.

“Waiting to go home one day”, as my reader said. Many of us feel the same way, but until there is something for us to go home to, we’ll be waiting it out elsewhere a LONG time.

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June 5, 2007 - Posted by | News/Trends

2 Comments »

  1. I am a 33 year old college graduate and I Still Live in Louisiana. I work Two jobs and I still have to borrow money to pay all the taxes needed to live in this state. I Work 50 to 60 hours a week and I have nothing to show for it. I do not drink, smoke or gamble My money goes to pay for electricity, food and insurance and GAS my house not is 500 a month. Louisiana could care less about its workers the legislature look out for the insurance and oil industries and the welfare voters. Every Time I go to wal-mart I see people who do not work with buggies full of steaks and candy when all I can afford is peanut butter as they use Their food stamp card to check out. I feel that there is nothing left here to stay far. All of my family has already moved away but I wanted to try and make it work. However, I am tired of just surviving and I want to raise my children in a Place of hope and prosperity and that is NOT Louisiana. This will be my Last year in Louisiana. I just wonder if anyone is ever going to wake-up to the fact that the working class is leaving, or are they going to party until there is no one left to pay the bill.

    I loved your article
    Thanks
    Jason Stuart
    Shreveport LA.

    Comment by Jason Stuart | June 20, 2007

  2. Jason – Glad you enjoyed the post. Unfortunately you are right that in Louisiana big corporate interests have influence because they can buy off state government and the welfare cases have influence just by virtue of their size. Working middle class people are now a small minority in the state and as such have no real power in the political process. As more middle class people come to the same realization you have, more will leave and the problem will only get worse.

    When I was at LSU, one of my good friends and I would always debate whether we had a duty to stay in Louisiana and try to make it better. He would always argue that things would only get better if our generation stayed to make it better, and I always argued that Louisiana was beyond saving and our works would make no difference. I guess that’s why I left and he stayed, but his degree was in public relations (codeword for bullsh!t) so he fits in well there. I always came to the conclusion that for an entire generation of people to stay you had to give them a reason to stay, and the state of Louisiana never has and probably never will.

    Best of luck to you, Jason. Hopefully wherever you and your family end up will treat you better than your home state has.

    Comment by billyoceanseleven | June 21, 2007


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