A Startling Amount of People Abandoned Lake Charles in 2020
If it feels like a lot of people left the Lake Charles area last year, it's because a lot of people did. National media outlets blame COVID - and that might've had something to do with it - but everyone living here knows the real culprit has a name. Two, actually: Laura and Delta.
We all know how difficult things suddenly got for us late last August, but try convincing anyone who wasn't here just how bad it has been and you'll find yourself either giving up in frustration or going down a very deep rabbit hole of producing links and charts and graphs of all kinds in a futile effort to back up your claims. And they still won't get it.
Just The Facts
Here's the latest statistic you can pass along to your out-of-town friends and family that shows no, this isn't all about perception. It's not in our heads and we're not exaggerating. No one here is making excuses for why sales are down or productivity is low or unemployment remains high even as businesses finally begin to reopen and desperately need new hires. We don't do excuses here. Reasons, yes. Excuses? Never.
According to a recent report from the New York Times, the Lake Charles Metro Area saw the greatest increase in the number of residents moving away in 2020 over 2019 than anywhere else in the country. Let that soak in. More people abandoned Lake Charles than fled much larger areas with much higher costs of living. Digging a little deeper into the data NYT sourced their story from paints a pretty clear picture.
CBRE Group claims to be the largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in the world, and their report analyzing USPS data shows the overwhelming majority of moves away from Lake Charles happened in the third and fourth quarters of last year. For those of you fortunate enough to not have to worry about business quarters, Q3 runs from July-September and Q4 is from October through December. Hurricane Laura hit on August 27. Delta followed on October 9.
By way of comparison, Lake Charles experienced a -5 point shift in people moving away in 2020 compared to 2019, while San Francisco only faced a -2.8 point change and New York saw a slight -1.7 shift. In 2019, Lake Charles had a -1.7% change in population. In 2020, that number jumped (or fell, as it were) an astonishing -6.7%. However, digging through more of the data indicates the Lake Charles area might have lost closer to 10% of our total population in 2020.
They Left After The Hurricanes
COVID didn't strike in Q3 or Q4. We'd been dealing with the pandemic since March and there was no mass exodus in April. People didn't leave in April. Or May. Or over the summer. They left after Laura. They kept leaving after Delta.
Of course, none of this is news to any of us who stayed. We still see the devastation every time we drive down any major street in the area, along plenty of back roads, and in far too many residential neighborhoods. We see it in still-damaged homes listed dirt cheap on real estate sites because the owners either can't afford to repair them or have had no luck with their insurance companies and time's run out. We see it in the massive spike in housing costs for the few undamaged or repaired properties on the market. We see it in the cost of building materials, the scarcity of contractors, the long waits on anything and everything.
The good news is we're beginning to bounce back. Stores are reopening, destroyed structures are being rebuilt, and insurance is finally starting to kick in for a lot of people. We may still have a long way to go, but we've come a long way already. People have been through hurricanes before. Anyone who's lived on the Gulf Coast has seen their fair share, but no one had lived through a devastating hurricane during a global pandemic before 2020. And they definitely didn't do it twice.
But we did.
We're Not Going Anywhere
Maybe we stayed because we were lucky and our homes survived mostly undamaged. Maybe we stayed for work. Maybe we stayed because Lake Charles is home. Whatever the reason, we stayed.
No one can be blamed for leaving, though. Many people had been without a paycheck since the pandemic started and just couldn't afford to wait until Lake Charles got back on its feet after the storms. New jobs and undamaged places to live took priority, and that's understandable. No one faults those who left.
However, those who remain have been through the ringer several times over. We dealt with the coronavirus, then we dealt with one of the strongest hurricanes Louisiana has ever seen, then we dealt with another one, and then we had an ice storm. We've lived without power for weeks, without water for days, and without internet for months. We've leaned how to do without and how to make the best out of what we still have.
And that's a spirit no storm can crush and no virus can wither.