Katrina Hit Blacks Harder Than Whites, Study Finds

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2007

NEW ORLEANS, May 9 -- The catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina has cost countless people here their homes, their jobs or their health. But according to a survey being released Thursday regarding daily life in the flood-ravaged city, the burden has fallen far heavier on blacks than on whites.

The proportion of black respondents who described their lives as "disrupted" more than a year after the storm (59 percent) was about double that of whites who said the same (29 percent).

The racial disparities ran across job experiences, housing and health. Researchers said the differences persist even when comparing blacks and whites who have similar incomes.

"Whites were hit hard, too, but blacks were disproportionately living in the areas that were most flooded," said Mollyann Brodie, vice president of public opinion and media research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the survey. "And even before Katrina hit, there were gaps between blacks and whites."

The findings were part of a 100-page study that depicts the area's daily struggle to recover from the August 2005 storm.

The in-person survey of 1,504 randomly selected adults in greater New Orleans was conducted from September to November of 2006. Though more than a year had elapsed since the storm, its effects persisted on a range of measures.

More than one in five city residents described their mental health as worse than it was before Katrina, with 4 percent saying they were taking a new prescription as a result. One-quarter said they were very satisfied with their overall quality of life, while 65 percent said they felt that way before the storm. In addition, 28 percent said that their job did not pay enough to cover basic expenses or that they were unemployed.

The survey suggests that African Americans still make up the majority of the adult population in Orleans Parish -- about 53 percent. Non-Hispanic whites account for about 39 percent, according to the survey. The racial makeup of the city during the recovery became a central issue in the mayoral election, in which C. Ray Nagin, who is black and referred to New Orleans as a "chocolate city," beat Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who is white.

Researchers reported finding a surprising amount of optimism among city residents despite the striking gloom and practical difficulties of living here. While anecdotal reports have suggested that many residents were leaving, only 11 percent reported they were seriously considering a move.

Nearly 70 percent, moreover, reported feeling "optimistic" about the future of greater New Orleans and 63 percent said the recovery was running in the right direction.

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