In the 1920 presidential election, the Republican nominee was Warren G. Harding, who mangled the language in saying that the nation needed “normalcy” after the first world war.
The word, though, survived long after the ill-fated Harding administration. It comes to mind for us as we consider south Louisiana a decade after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. What’s normalcy supposed to look like for us?
What no one wants to see is a return to the status quo regarding the things that were going wrong in the region before the fateful landfall of Hurricane Katrina.
That is why New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other leaders are wise to take seriously the news that the rate of childhood poverty in New Orleans is close to the prestorm level. That’s a serious problem for a region that desperately needs economic progress.
A report from The Data Center said that of some 78,000 people younger than 18 in Orleans Parish, about 39 percent were living in poverty as of 2013. The group analyzed census data to arrive at the rate, up from 32 percent in 2007 and approaching the 41 percent seen in 1999.
It puts New Orleans back into the top 10, in the wrong sense — ninth among 39 cities of comparable size.
The Data Center, which recently shortened its name from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, suggests the prevalence of low-wage jobs, rather than outright unemployment, is the likeliest culprit.
Most families with children in poverty have at least one working parent. But 12 percent of full-time workers in the city earn less than $17,500 a year, compared with only 8 percent nationally. And women in the city — 48 percent of New Orleans children live in single-parent homes where there is no husband — are more likely to be in low-wage jobs. About 64,000 working women in the city earned less than $17,500 in the past year.
The Data Center report cites research that shows a strong correlation between single-parent families and poverty, but it does not take a Ph.D. in sociology to recognize that reality.
New Orleans is economically advancing — but its child poverty percentage is that of hard-pressed “rustbelt” cities like Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio.
Clearly, it’s not enough to see top-line progress economically but to see that the benefits do more than trickle down to the homefront. The workforce of the future is even now being shaped by absentee fatherhood and the innumerable ways that a lack of parental time and money hobbles a kid’s chances in life — early in life, as The Data Center report said.
“Children in poverty are much more likely to experience exposure to violence, chronic neglect and the accumulated burdens of economic hardship,” the report says, and that can lead to “lifelong difficulties in learning, memory and self-regulation.”
God knows the latter is on view in the streets of New Orleans. This is a normalcy that we did not want to see return.