The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

White people in New Orleans say they’re better off after Katrina. Black people don’t.

A man pushes his bicycle through flood waters near the Superdome in New Orleans on Aug. 31, 2005. (Eric Gay/AP file)

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans. By all accounts, the city has made enormous strides since the 2005 calamity.

But how much residents think that’s true depends largely on their race.

A new Louisiana State University survey found that black and white people in New Orleans had starkly different assessments of their community’s strides since the storm.

Nearly 80 percent of white residents of New Orleans say that Louisiana has “mostly recovered” since the storm, according to the survey from LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs.

But nearly 60 percent of black people say the opposite — that the state has “mostly not recovered” in their view.

It isn’t just that white residents think things are better now than the day after the flood waters receded. Most white residents also believe the city is better than it was before the storm arrived. Most black residents, on the other hand, think the opposite.

The responses reflect a truth about New Orleans that became impossible for the rest of the country to ignore once the levees broke: The city’s black residents were disproportionately affected by flooding. The African American population in New Orleans lived largely in the city’s low-lying eastern areas, which suffered massive flooding.

Blacks accounted for 73 percent of the people displaced by the storm in New Orleans. And more than one-third of the black people in New Orleans displaced by Katrina were estimated to have been poor, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. (About 14 percent of the city’s non-black population displaced by the storm was poor.)

[A decade into the Katrina diaspora]

This survey and others — including one from the Kaiser Family Foundation — indicate that the city’s recovery is viewed as being largely lopsided along racial lines.

Less than half of the city’s black residents were able to get back into their homes within a year, according to the survey. Compare that with 70 percent of the city’s white residents who were able to return home within a year.

As The Washington Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote this week, a “recovered” New Orleans looks a lot like a gentrified New Orleans. The city is thriving — but in a younger, whiter and wealthier form.

[New Orleans, 10 years after Katrina: A ‘resilience lab’]

Most of the city’s newest residents — 56 percent — are white, according to the LSU survey. In general, the city’s newest residents are also better educated and have higher incomes. They also tend to rate virtually every facet of life in the city as having improved compared with black residents, who take a more pessimistic view.

A plurality of both white and black residents of New Orleans rate their own lives as “about the same” since Katrina. But 41 percent of whites say their lives are better, and only 10 percent say they’re worse off. The outlook is far more negative for blacks: Only 20 percent say their quality of life is better, and 36 percent say it is worse.

In fact, asked about the quality of the city’s schools, health care, economy and overall life in their community, white residents rate progress more positively. Half of white residents say the quality of life in their communities is better than before the storm. By contrast 45 percent of black residents say quality of life in their communities is worse than before the storm:

The economy:

Access to health care:

And schools:

A major factor is that though the city has lost some 100,000 people from its black population, the remaining black residents are more likely than white residents to have actually endured the storm; 84 percent of African Americans now in New Orleans lived in the city before the storm, while only 61 percent of whites did.

But that’s not the only factor: Even among the residents who lived in the city before the storm, the racial disparity in responses persists. Among those who lived in the city before the storm, more black residents than whites say that the storm had “a great deal” of impact on their lives.

That is perhaps because, at least economically, post-storm New Orleans isn’t just perceived as being different for African Americans, it actually is different since the storm:

[A] National Urban League study said the gap between the median income of African Americans and whites grew by 18 percent after the storm, and the number of black children living in poverty jumped from 44 percent to more than 51 percent.


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