Post-Katrina Recovery for Black New Orleans Lags, Study Finds

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina resulted in the exodus of large numbers of African Americans from New Orleans, the recovery process has disproportionately benefited white residents and failed to address many of the racial inequities that existed before the disaster, a report from the Urban League of Greater New Orleans finds.

The report, The State of Black New Orleans 10 Years Post-Katrina (332 pages, PDF), examined the city's progress in the areas of civic engagement, criminal justice, economic and workforce development, education, the environment, health care, and housing and found that political power in the city shifted rapidly from African Americans to whites in the aftermath of the storm. Among residents whose homes were flooded, African Americans outnumbered whites four to one, and with many low-income evacuees unable to return, public housing developments razed, and voter education and turnout efforts weakened, the number of registered African-American voters in the city fell some 25 percent between August 2005 and December 2014. The report also notes that while the recovery-planning process resulted in higher levels of community civic engagement, black voter participation rates have returned to pre-Katrina levels only in the last few years.

Among other things, the study found that the wealth gap between the city's African-American and white residents continued to widen over the last decade. Between 2005 and 2013, the median annual income for African Americans in the city rose from $23,394 to $25,102, while for white residents it increased from 49,262 to $60,553. Similarly, the unemployment rate for African Americans stood at 13 percent, compared with 6 percent for whites, while a majority (52 percent) of African-American men in the city were either unemployed or not in the labor force. On a more positive note, the report found that public high school graduation rates had increased from 54 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2014, while dropout rates had fallen from 12.2 percent to 6.5 percent.

The report also notes that African Americans continue to be disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, accounting for 59 percent of the city's population and 90 percent of the local prison population, and that housing remains unaffordable for many New Orleanians, with 61.3 percent of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent, while the average home price over the last decade has jumped from $253,502 to $347,212.

Released at the Urban League's "RISE: Katrina 10" conference, the report was billed as an alternative to the prevailing narrative of a New Orleans that has come back "better and stronger." "We know that those most vulnerable in communities often go unheard," Erika McConduit-Diggs, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, said at the conference, "and that the curators of these conversations are not the people most deeply impacted by the storm."