Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Sad Aftermath of Katrina: The Demographics of Return

Originally Written for and Posted at Blog for America

“Class, Color May Guide Repopulation of New Orleans” reads the headline of a front-page Washington Post article.

The Post presents evidence of the revival of two of the worst hit neighborhoods in New Orleans—Lakeview and the Lower Ninth Ward. The destruction was similar. The demographics were not.

New Orleans’ newspaper, the Times-Picayune, deemed Lakeview, decimated, using the headline "Homes Are Sludge Pits With Little to Salvage.” The similar destruction of the Lower Ninth Ward has been broadcast across America. These neighborhoods both saw Katrina’s horrific wrath.

However, the demographics of Lakeview and the Lower Ninth Ward are markedly different. Lakeview is 94 percent white; the Lower Ninth Ward is 98 percent black. 49 percent of Lakeview’s residents have a college degree; only 6 percent of the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward have a college degree. In Lakeview, 66 percent of children go to private school and in the Lower Ninth Ward, more than 33 percent of residents live in poverty.

Lakeview is now seeing signs of revival. The water is on and the smell of bleach, which kills mold, is strong. The thwack of crowbars and the whine of chain saws fill the air. Insurance adjusters have begun making rounds and the residents are home.

The Lower Ninth Ward still sits mostly empty as residents must leave by dusk and planners have raised the possibility of turning it into a flood-plain park.

This evidence logically leads to the Post’s headline, “Class, Color May Guide Repopulation of New Orleans” and the fear that New Orleans will be “whiter, richer and more homogeneous.” These are facts that I intuitively know—one that corresponds to the racial tensions and segregation present in pre-Katrina New Orleans and one that I’ve seen exaggerated by the anti-poor people policies of the current Republican administration. However, the documentation of this scenario in 2005 as an almost fait accompli by one of America’s largest and most national newspapers is, in a word, sad.

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