NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans was the fastest-growing large city in the nation last year, but its population is still about half what it was before Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday.
Between July 1, 2006, and July 1, 2007, its population jumped 13.8 percent to 239,124, according to the bureau's latest statistics on cities with populations of at least 100,000.
That's just more than half the 453,726 people living there about two months before Katrina devastated the city and led to a near-total evacuation in August 2005.
The size of New Orleans' population has been debated since post-storm recovery began.
The Census Bureau estimated New Orleans' population by looking at its available housing units, along with building permits, construction without building permits and mobile home shipments. The data don't differentiate temporary laborers and others involved in recovery efforts who might not stay there.
Demographer Greg Rigamer said he believes the city currently has 315,000 to 320,000 residents, estimated by utility and water hookups, mail delivery and other public service accounts.
But Rigamer said the population report doesn't make New Orleans a boom town.
"We aren't fast-growing," he said. "We're recovering. It's good people are coming back, but you can't put us in with Houston. Come on."
Because of a year's delay on the figures, the population effects of current economic trends — like the real estate slowdown and high gas prices — aren't yet known, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
"The fast-growing parts of the country are still fast-growing, but it's slowing down," Frey said. "It's evident all over Florida. Miami, Orlando and Tampa have shown significant slowdowns in the growth. Phoenix and several Texas cities have shown a slowdown."
At the same time, the credit crunch — making it more difficult to buy homes in the suburbs — may be responsible for year-to-year population gains in such cities as Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, Frey said.
The Census report also found:
• Texas cities showed rapid growth: Houston added the most people, with 38,932 new residents; San Antonio, Fort Worth and Austin were among the top 10 in numerical increases; and McKinney, Denton and Killeen were among the top 10 in percentage increases.
• The consolidated metropolitan area of Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn., became the 25th largest city with 590,807 residents. Washington, D.C., fell out of the top 25.
• Cleveland had the largest numerical decline in population over the latest year, losing 5,067 residents, followed by Columbus, Ga.; Baton Rouge, La.; Philadelphia and Baltimore. Cleveland also had the second greatest rate of loss over seven years, losing 8.3 percent of its population to stand at 438,042.
• In 2007, New York remained the largest city with 8.3 million residents, followed by Los Angeles with 3.8 million and Chicago with 2.8 million.