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New Orleans: Counting the missing

NEW ORLEANS has been taxing demographers since the day six years ago when Hurricane Katrina burst the city’s levees, killing more than 1,000 people and setting off the greatest diaspora in recent American history. Keeping track of the erstwhile New Orleanians as they fanned out across the country was a tall order. And figuring out exactly who was coming back and how fast became the source of many an argument.Last year’s decennial census, whose details were revealed piecemeal earlier this year and have been picked over by analysts since then, has now settled some of the most hotly debated questions in New Orleans, the first of which was simply: how many people now live there?The answer is depressing. The city lost 29% of its population between 2000 and 2010, falling from nearly a half-million inhabitants to 343,829. New Orleans has been shrinking since the 1960s, but slowly, so nearly all of the loss can be chalked up to Katrina. Still, the numbers are a sobering reminder to locals that the city that gave birth to jazz doesn’t cast a very long shadow any more.Consider this: in 1840, when its position near the mouth of the Mississippi River made it a vital port, New Orleans was America’s third-largest city; in 1960, it was 15th. Today, it’s 52nd. The last time New Orleans was this small was in 1910, when much of what now comprises the city was still uninhabitable swampland….

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