New Orleans (/ˈɔːrl(i)ənz, ɔːrˈliːnz/, locally /ˈɔːrlənz/; French: La Nouvelle-Orléans [la nuvɛlɔʁleɑ̃] (listen)) is a consolidated city-parish located along the Mississippi River in the southeastern region of the U.S. state of Louisiana. With an estimated population of 391,006 in 2018, it is the most populous city in Louisiana. Serving as a major port, New Orleans is considered an economic and commercial hub for the broader Gulf Coast region of the United States.
New Orleans is located in the Mississippi River Delta, south of Lake Pontchartrain, on the banks of the Mississippi River, approximately 105 miles (169 km) upriver from the Gulf of Mexico. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city’s area is 350 square miles (910 km), of which 169 square miles (440 km) is land and 181 square miles (470 km) (52%) is water. Orleans Parish is the smallest parish by land area in Louisiana. The area along the river is characterized by ridges and hollows.
According to the 2010 Census, 343,829 people and 189,896 households lived in New Orleans. Its racial and ethnic makeup was 60.2% African American, 33.0% White, 2.9% Asian (1.7% Vietnamese, 0.3% Indian, 0.3% Chinese, 0.1% Filipino, 0.1% Korean), 0.0% Pacific Islander, and 1.7% were people of two or more races. People of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 5.3% of the population; 1.3% is Mexican, 1.3% Honduran, 0.4% Cuban, 0.3% Puerto Rican, and 0.3% Nicaraguan.
The last population estimate before Hurricane Katrina was 454,865, as of July 1, 2005. A population analysis released in August 2007 estimated the population to be 273,000, 60% of the pre-Katrina population and an increase of about 50,000 since July 2006. A September 2007 report by The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, which tracks population based on U.S. Postal Service figures, found that in August 2007, just over 137,000 households received mail. That compares with about 198,000 households in July 2005, representing about 70% of pre-Katrina population. More recently, the Census Bureau revised upward its 2008 population estimate for the city, to 336,644 inhabitants. In 2010, estimates showed that neighborhoods that did not flood were near or even greater than 100% of their pre-Katrina populations.
A 2006 study by researchers at Tulane University and the University of California, Berkeley determined that as many as 10,000 to 14,000 undocumented immigrants, many from Mexico, resided in New Orleans. The New Orleans Police Department began a new policy to “no longer cooperate with federal immigration enforcement” beginning on February 28, 2016. Janet Murguía, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, stated that up to 120,000 Hispanic workers lived in New Orleans. In June 2007, one study stated that the Hispanic population had risen from 15,000, pre-Katrina, to over 50,000.
As of 2010, 90.31% of residents age 5 and older spoke English at home as a primary language, while 4.84% spoke Spanish, 1.87% Vietnamese, and 1.05% spoke French. In total, 9.69% population age 5 and older spoke a mother language other than English.
New Orleans’ colonial history of French and Spanish settlement generated a strong Roman Catholic tradition. Catholic missions ministered to slaves and free people of color and established schools for them. In addition, many late 19th and early 20th century European immigrants, such as the Irish, some Germans, and Italians were Catholic. Within the Archdiocese of New Orleans (which includes not only the city but the surrounding parishes as well), 35.9% percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Catholicism is reflected in French and Spanish cultural traditions, including its many parochial schools, street names, architecture and festivals, including Mardi Gras.
Influenced by the Bible Belt’s prominent Protestant population, New Orleans has a sizable non-Catholic demographic. 12.2% of the population are Baptist, followed by 5.1% from another Christian faith including Orthodox Christianity or Oriental Orthodoxy, 3.1% Methodist, 1.8% Episcopalian, 0.9% Presbyterian, 0.8% Lutheran, 0.8% Latter-Day Saint, and 0.6% Pentecostal.
New Orleans displays a distinctive variety of Louisiana Voodoo, due in part to syncretism with African and Afro-Caribbean Roman Catholic beliefs. The fame of voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau contributed to this, as did New Orleans’ Caribbean cultural influences. Although the tourism industry strongly associated Voodoo with the city, only a small number of people are serious adherents.
Jewish settlers, primarily Sephardim, settled in New Orleans from the early nineteenth century. Some migrated from the communities established in the colonial years in Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. The merchant Abraham Cohen Labatt helped found the first Jewish congregation in New Orleans in the 1830s, which became known as the Portuguese Jewish Nefutzot Yehudah congregation (he and some other members were Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors had lived in Portugal and Spain). Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe immigrated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. By the 21st century, 10,000 Jews lived in New Orleans. This number dropped to 7,000 after Hurricane Katrina, but rose again after efforts to incentivize the community’s growth resulted in the arrival of about an additional 2,000 Jews. New Orleans synagogues lost members, but most re-opened in their original locations. The exception was Congregation Beth Israel, the oldest and most prominent Orthodox synagogue in the New Orleans region. Beth Israel’s building in Lakeview was destroyed by flooding. After seven years of holding services in temporary quarters, the congregation consecrated a new synagogue on land purchased from the Reform Congregation Gates of Prayer in Metairie.
The earliest Filipino Americans to live within the city arrived in the early 1800s.
As of 2011 the Hispanic population had grown in the New Orleans area, including in Kenner, central Metairie, and Terrytown in Jefferson Parish and eastern New Orleans and Mid-City in New Orleans proper.
After Katrina the small Brazilian-American population expanded. Portuguese speakers were the second most numerous group to take English as a second language classes in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, after Spanish speakers. Many Brazilians worked in skilled trades such as tile and flooring, although fewer worked as day laborers than did Latinos. Many had moved from Brazilian communities in the Northeastern United States, particularly Florida and Georgia. Brazilians settled throughout the metropolitan area. Most were undocumented. In January 2008 the New Orleans Brazilian population had a mid-range estimate of 3,000. By 2008 Brazilians had opened many small churches, shops and restaurants catering to their community.
Beginning in 1960, the population decreased due to factors such as the cycles of oil production and tourism, and as suburbanization increased (as with many cities), and jobs migrated to surrounding parishes. This economic and population decline resulted in high levels of poverty in the city; in 1960 it had the fifth-highest poverty rate of all US cities, and was almost twice the national average in 2005, at 24.5%. New Orleans experienced an increase in residential segregation from 1900 to 1980, leaving the disproportionately African-American poor in older, low-lying locations. These areas were especially susceptible to flood and storm damage.
Katrina displaced 800,000 people, contributing significantly to the decline. African Americans, renters, the elderly, and people with low income were disproportionately affected by Katrina, compared to affluent and white residents. In Katrina’s aftermath, city government commissioned groups such as Bring New Orleans Back Commission, the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan, the Unified New Orleans Plan, and the Office of Recovery Management to contribute to plans addressing depopulation. Their ideas included shrinking the city’s footprint from before the storm, incorporating community voices into development plans, and creating green spaces, some of which incited controversy.
From 2010 to 2014 the city grew by 12%, adding an average of more than 10,000 new residents each year following the 2010 Census.