Facing South

2010 Census reveals lingering scars of Katrina

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New Orleans Blighted House.jpgThe release of Louisiana's 2010 Census data last week had little in the way of surprises for those who live there, but it did provide confirmation -- and affirmation -- for what they've been saying the last five years: Despite inspiring progress, Katrina's devastation is still deeply felt throughout New Orleans and the state.

Bloomberg captured the upshot in its headline: "Census finds Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans Richer, Whiter, Emptier."

And the Census data is clear: Despite hopes that the disasters of the last five years would unite South Louisiana in the common project of rebuilding, the realities of poverty and race divides, exacerbated by failures in recovery policy, created new divisions between those who could rebuild, those who are still struggling to -- and those who gave up entirely, contributing to the Crescent City's population decrease of 29 percent since 2000, largely African-American.

As Lance Hill of the Southern Institute for Education and Research told the AP:

"Who recovered depended very much on race and class. We have forgotten
that there are over 100,000 African-Americans who remain displaced."

The Census also revealed other demographic upheavals that Katrina either set in motion or helped accelerate:

* Where Are the Children? As Facing South discovered in our first trip to New Orleans after Katrina, one of the most striking realities was the lack of children in the streets. The slow pace of rebuilding homes and especially schools drive out many families with kids. The result? Today, the number of children in New Orleans has declined by 47 percent since 2000 -- a stunning shift in the city's makeup.

* A Changing Face: The displacement of 100,000 African-Americans has left South Louisiana whiter, but Katrina also sparked the growth of immigrant communities who have been well-represented in the rebuilding workforce. According to the 2010 Census, the state's Latino/Hispanic population nearly doubled, growing by 84,000 across the state.

* Search for Shelter: One of the most dramatic statistics in the Census data is that not only has the number of houses in New Orleans declined by 12 percent since 2000, but nearly one out of four homes in the city are vacant. That's nearly double the rate 10 years ago.

Indeed, five years of uneven recovery have locked some storm-impacted areas in a vicious cycle: Since there's less affordable housing (as well as schools, hospitals and other community services), families haven't been able to move back; without a clear demand for housing and services, there's a shortage of political and economic will to rebuild.

The result is clear in places like the storied Ninth Ward, where the population today is 80 percent below 2000 levels.

The 2010 Census data offer start numbers that remind the country of Katrina's ongoing impact in New Orleans and Louisiana. Hopefully it can also spark new discussion about how to tackle the region's ongoing challenges, and what lessons can be learned for recovery policy for the next place to be hit by a major disaster.

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