Reworking the working coast: Economic change and the geography of opportunity in Southeast Louisiana

Dr. Robert Habans

Published: Oct 16, 2019

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In Southeast Louisiana, the changing nature of economic opportunity will shape the degree to which the Super Region, and communities within it, experience the effects of coastal land loss. Over the long term, underlying economic dynamics can constrain the capacity of coastal communities to invest in protection and adaptation. For example, as residents’ access to jobs changes, so may their ability to pay rising property insurance rates. At the same time, local governments may face shrinking tax rolls due to lower property values, constraining government’s ability to invest in flood protection. This brief examines the changing distribution and mix of industries and occupations in the Super Region to inform economic development decisions that can boost coastal communities’ ability to be resilient in the face of rising seas.

Introduction

Land loss, the risk of storm surge, and the threat of chronic inundation will be factors in the economy of Southeast Louisiana for the foreseeable future. Environmental risk will have impacts on the regional economy particularly because coastal Louisiana is a “working coast” with important job centers that are economically interconnected with larger job centers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The brief sheds light on the feedback loop between economic change and the region’s prospects for resilience and adaptation.

The brief finds that front-line coastal areas have provided decent pathways to upward mobility. However, some of the sites of the greatest opportunity in the Super Region are among its most threatened. This brief highlights the fact that the response to coastal challenges hinges on non-environmental factors, such as the fate of key industries like oil and gas, the possibility of further losses of middle-earning occupations, and the availability of jobs in vulnerable coastal areas.

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