Where Have All the Children Gone?

Where Have All the Children Gone?

Since 1970, EBR’s Population Grew from 285,167 to 440,171; Yet, Number of Children FELL

by Woody Jenkins, Editor

BATON ROUGE — An analysis of U. S. Census data from 1960 to 2010 tells an amazing story of East Baton Rouge Parish’s disappearing children.

Over the past 50 years, the population of the parish has grown by more than 200,000 people — from 236,058 in 1960 to 440,171 in 2010.  Yet, in that same period, the number of children under five has actually decreased — from 30,298 in 1960 to 29,507 in 2010.

The parish is diverse — with poor people, rich people, single people, and retired people.  But the one thing that is missing is working, middle income families with children.  The census numbers suggest that they have fled to Livingston and Ascension parishes.

The City of Baton Rouge has one of the highest murder rates in the country, and the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is ranked among the worst in the state.

Meanwhile, right outside the East Baton Rouge Parish school system are five of the top performing school systems in the state — Zachary, Central, West Feliciana, Livingston, and Ascension.  These areas also boast low crime rates.

Poor families may be trapped in poorly-performing inner city schools, and upper income families may decide to stay and take advantage of Baton Rouge’s outstanding private and parochial schools.

But working, middle income families have had little choice but to exit the parish, in favor of family-friendly communities and parishes nearby.

School Age Population

Since 1970, the school age population of East Baton Rouge Parish has also declined.

In 1970, the parish had a population of 285,167.  It grew to 440,171 by 2010.  However, in that same period the number of school age children (age 5 to 17) in the parish went down from 78,963 in 1970 to 74,158 in 2010.

EBR’s Aging Population

As the number of pre-schoolers and school age children has declined in East Baton Rouge Parish, the number of older citizens has sky-rocketed.

In 1960, East Baton Rouge Parish had 11,877 residents who were over 65 years of age.  In 2010, the parish had 48,030 residents over 65.

Outlook for Future

The population trends for the parish raise many questions:

• With young people constituting a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, who will pay the taxes to support the growing number of older citizens?

• With the exodus of middle income working families, will East Baton Rouge Parish maintain its viability as a commercial center?  The city saw the closure of Bon Marche as a retail center.  Cortana Mall was recently sold for only $6 million, and some analysts have said the new owners will likely shift the emphasis of the mall from retail to offices.  Recent disorders by teenagers created bad publicity for Mall of Louisiana.  The question is, will families in Livingston and Ascension continue to shop in Baton Rouge as their own parishes develop new shopping areas such as Juban Crossing?

• Will anything be done to curb the growing cost of government?  Almost every program is justified as necessary “for the children” and spending goes up.  Yet, the number of children is down, in real terms and especially as a percentage of the population.

What Can Draw People Back?

Can anything draw working, middle income families back to East Baton Rouge Parish?

If it is true that families have fled to Livingston and Ascension parishes primarily because of good public schools and low crime rates, it follows that the way to draw people back to East Baton Rouge Parish is with good public schools and low crime rates

Unless that can be done, East Baton Rouge Parish seems likely to see more and more of its children disappear.

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