Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, half of New Orleans’ working-age black men are unemployed.
Median income for black New Orleanians is about $25,000 a year, not much better than it was before the storm, and far behind the $60,000 average income of white residents. And the gap has gotten bigger, not smaller, in the past decade.
Upward mobility also remains elusive in the black community. While the share of white families who earn more than $105,000 per year has grown from 20 percent to 30 percent, the figure for African-American families remains at 7 percent, exactly where it was before the storm.
Meanwhile, the lowest income bracket — those making less than $20,900 per year — includes 44 percent of the city’s black families.
Those are just some of the figures collected in a yearlong effort by the Urban League of New Orleans to chart the position of African-Americans in the city after a decade of recovery.
The results, released Wednesday to kick off the organization’s three-day “RISE: Katrina 10” conference, were billed as an antidote to the comforting narrative of a city coming back stronger from the storm — a closer, more clear-eyed look at the ways in which the last decade has been a tale of two unequal recoveries rather than a renaissance.
The report, titled “The State of Black New Orleans,” looks at “who is thriving in this city and who got left behind,” said Erika McConduit-Diggs, president and CEO of the Urban League’s New Orleans chapter.
“We know that those most vulnerable in communities often go unheard and that the curators of these conversations are not the people most deeply impacted by the storm,” she told the audience Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.
The report draws on the work of more than 100 community leaders across seven aspects of the recovery: the economy, the environment, education, civic engagement, housing, criminal justice and health care.
While it notes instances where the recovery has benefited black New Orleanians, it highlights a number of data points that indicate the gains associated with post-Katrina recovery “are disproportionately benefiting whites.” It also highlights a number of areas where statistics show that black people in New Orleans continue to struggle, without comparing the numbers to where they stood a decade ago.
National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial called the report, which includes recommendations for each of its seven areas of study, an opportunity for policymakers and community leaders to pause and take stock.
Among the report’s findings:
- African-American political power was significantly diminished after Katrina but is beginning to show signs of strengthening. Black members lost their majorities on the City Council and School Board between 2005 and 2008, though they have regained those majorities since then. Likewise, black candidates have managed to pick up a number of judgeships since then. Voter registration among black people fell by 25 percent between 2005 and 2014, compared with only 10 percent for whites.
- African-Americans continue to be overrepresented in the city’s criminal justice system, though federal intervention and local advocacy have made some strides in correcting that.
Although New Orleans’ population is 59 percent black, almost 90 percent of the local prison population is black. In 2011, 99 percent of juveniles arrested in New Orleans were black, a percentage that remains unchanged this year. About 75 percent of all eligible juvenile cases are transferred to adult court.
On an encouraging note, the report says, New Orleans’ prison population, while still higher than the national average, is declining as the city has taken steps to deal with nonviolent offenders through summonses rather than arrests.
- The most significant disparities between black and white New Orleanians can be found in employment status and median household income.
With median income stagnant and the black unemployment rate more than twice that of white residents, putting African-Americans — particularly men — to work remains imperative.
Morial made this a key point in his remarks Wednesday with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, saying the city should work to extract promises from major developers to hire locally and to help minority and disadvantaged businesses. “Every new initiative and project that comes to fruition in this city, there’s got to be an economic inclusion discussion about the project,” Morial said.
- Sixty percent of white people in New Orleans hold management positions, more than twice the 27 percent rate for black people. Only 17 percent of area businesses are owned by black people, and just 4 percent of those businesses have any paid employees. One bright spot is an increase in disadvantaged business participation at the city’s public schools.
- While 88 percent of the city’s housing units have been restored, affordability and quality continue to be significant challenges, particularly for black residents. Based on the available data, the report says, a lack of affordable housing, limited resources for rebuilding and discriminatory housing practices are barriers to recovery for African-Americans.
The demolition of the city’s four biggest public housing developments cut the 5,146 units of public housing in the city to fewer than 2,000. While that number is expected to increase to 2,748, many public housing residents were displaced, and the number of low-income families receiving vouchers for privately owned apartments doubled.
Also, rent in New Orleans has soared, going from an average of $488 per month before Katrina to $926 today.
At the same time, the average price of a home has risen from $253,502 in 2005 to $347,212 this year.
African-Americans were the least likely to return to the city after the storm, with 54 percent returning compared with 89 percent of white residents. For those who did return, federal funds designed to help them rebuild have been unequally distributed.
- While there have been gains in education, high-performing schools continue to be out of reach for many, and the percentage of African-Americans with a bachelor’s degree lags behind other Southern cities, such as Atlanta.
There are bright spots here, though: The report notes that public school graduation rates increased from 54 percent to 73 percent between 2004 and 2014, and dropout rates in the public schools have been cut from 12 percent to 7 percent.
- On the subject of the environment, the report says disasters affect black and low-income neighborhoods disproportionately, and historical forces have impeded their residents’ ability to return home. Of the 61 percent of New Orleanians flooded during the post-Katrina levee breaches, black residents outnumbered white residents 4-1.
The closing of Charity Hospital reduced access to health care among poor and black residents, though an increase in community health centers and passage of the Affordable Care Act have helped mitigate the impact.
Before the storm, half of the city’s uninsured said Charity was their usual source of care, and three-quarters of the hospital’s patients were African-American.
Between 2009 and 2011, a third of blacks — compared with 17 percent of whites — in the city were uninsured, but the ACA cut the percentage of uninsured black residents to 16 percent and of white residents to 11 percent. Still, the report says, state budget cuts have further crippled the mental health infrastructure.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.