Left behind, New Orleans’s black middle class wonders: What recovery?

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Black New Orleans 10 Years Post-Katrina.

NEW ORLEANS — On one side of what’s left of the Grand Theater is graffiti, broken glass and boarded-up windows. The State of Black New Orleans report released by the National Urban League on Wednesday gives clear context for the many ongoing challenges black residents of New Orleans face in the quality of their day-to-day lives. “[It’s a] commemoration and continuation,” Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League and the city’s former mayor, told The Huffington Post about New Orleans now. “It’s about recognizing and remembering those who died. On the other, there’s a massive mural that says: “We got work to do.” Around the corner, dollar stores, fast-food joints and mostly empty strip malls have sprouted in the vast commercial lots cleared by Hurricane Katrina. A personal note: Its devastation and ugly aftermath inspired me at the time to begin writing about major world and national issues along with media work pro bono. The comprehensive report examines the poor conditions of black life in New Orleans based on data mostly from 2013 and also gives guidance on how to overcome them.

It bears repeating some what that first article said – calling Katrina less what nature wrought, more a conspiracy of federal, state and city government along with business interests against the area’s most vulnerable residents – mainly its poor Black population. It is also not a story of perfection,” says Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Program Director for the Walton Family Foundation. “There’s progress to celebrate and improved academic outcomes. It addresses the inadequacies across a series of statistics that disproportionately affect black New Orleanians across categories including median income, unemployment, health care conditions, education and economic and crime levels, among others.

Shortly after Katrina made landfall, the world witnessed poor African-Americans abandoned to fend for themselves after levee breaks inundated the Lower Ninth Ward. Ten years after the storm, its prosperous, professional residents have come back in large numbers, but their neighborhood has been forgotten, they say, left out of the city’s broader economic revival. “We’ve been red-lined,” said Stella Jones, 72, a retired doctor who lives in an immaculately restored five-bedroom home. “They say the city is back, but we’re not part of the city.” The failure of the East to return to its pre-storm standard of living has puzzled residents, especially given the billions of dollars in economic development and hurricane recovery funds that have rained down on the region. Population change or not, many of these issues were concerning challenges to the city’s black residents prior to Katrina’s landfall — and some were only exacerbated in the aftermath of its devastation. As blacks tried to escape their entrapment in flooded areas, neighboring white cities, such as Gretna, set up armed police officers to keep blacks from pouring into their space.

Louisiana Superintendent John White says it’s notable that in the last decade, the rate for local kids reading at a basic level went from one third to two thirds. And while the East was heavily damaged by catastrophic flooding, so was Lakeview, a mostly white community whose bustling main street is now lined with restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

I draw on data from the 2000 U.S. census and from the 2011-2013 American Community Survey’s 3-year estimates to examine changes in the demographic and socioeconomic profile of New Orleans’ population. She thinks its time for them to go back to the democratically elected school board. “I know what I intended when I supported it,” she says. “It was to help the school get into a position to then be governed again by the locals. It was never intended for it to be forever, in perpetuity.” Some leaders focused on practical needs, like better mental health support for students — both inside and outside school.

The population loss has been particularly significant among blacks with a decline of one-third, nearly three times greater than the population decrease of one-eighth among whites. Black families began arriving in the 1960s, settling first in neighborhoods designated for “colored people” and later in the historically white communities. Davis-Bacon law guaranteeing prevailing wages on federally funded or assisted construction contracts was suspended – letting contractors employ undocumented workers at poverty wages and no benefits. In contrast, as rules were relaxed to bring undocumented labor to rebuild New Orleans, the Latino population increased by one-third between 2000 and 2011-2013.

That percentage equates to more than 45,000 children and has grown since 2005 when the black youth poverty rate was 44 percent. “The child poverty gap creates a cause for an even greater concern,” Erica McConduit-Diggs, the President of the Urban League Chapter Of Greater New Orleans, told HuffPost. “But it makes sense right? Blackwater USA and other paramilitaries were deployed straightaway – in full battle gear, patrolling streets in SUVs or unmarked cars with no license plates. Nearly 100,000 (largely Black) people “never got back,” he said. “(T)he city remains incredibly poor, jobs and income vary dramatically by race, rents are up, public transportation is down, traditional public housing is gone, life expectancy differs dramatically by race and place, and most public education has been converted into charter schools.” Area African-American households earn half as much as white ones.

Whites 25 and older were four times more likely than blacks to have a bachelor’s degree in 2011-2013, with 63 percent of whites having a college diploma compared to 16 percent of blacks. The influx of lower-income blacks has produced a more racially homogenous neighborhood (but for a small, vibrant population of Vietnamese residents) and one that is much less prosperous. Higher education rates for women have increased in the city, too — 21 percent of black females earned bachelor degrees or higher in 2013 (compared with 19 percent in 2005). There are still no retail options and virtually none of the kinds of restaurants that have made New Orleans a destination for foodies. “I thought I was living a good life. Somebody they can just talk to and… give them a sense of normalcy that, as a black male, as a black female, that we can want more.” “It’s a whole process of being able to just really expose the youth and get them to kind of see something different, to want more from themselves,” McKneely added. “Otherwise, everyday on our news, we’re seeing killings.” New Orleans’ high crime rate is still deeply concerning.

The city itself has the highest incarceration rate per capita than any other city in the country and nearly 90 percent of its prisoners are black, according to the report. Reform efforts are well underway, McConduitt-Diggs said. “The city has aggressively taken on the challenge of reducing the murder rate at the same time the community has collectively engaged in a conversation about the adequate and appropriate use of our jail, and making it more constitutional,” she said. These days, summons are more often issued for petty offenses and the jails are used for more violent offenders. “In 2005 when Katrina hit we had about 6,300 inmates in our prison — that’s a lot,” McConduitt-Diggs said. “Today our average daily rate of inmates stay is about 1,900, that’s a drastic reduction.” Half of white New Orleans residents say their quality of life in their local community is better while nearly half of blacks say it is worse, according to a new study conducted by the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University. “As difficult as Katrina was for us, it provided a platform for us to have more substantive and policy oriented conversations about who we want to be,” McConduit-Diggs said.

People worry that property values will fall, undercutting decades of effort to build up the black middle class, in large part by encouraging home ownership. Beginning in the 1970s, the bank doled out small loans and later mortgages to working-class blacks who might not have qualified at other financial institutions in that era. Before Katrina, when the East had lost many non-black residents and was rapidly losing its commercial sector, the bank worked to bring large chain restaurants to the neighborhood.

And so, we’re talking about somewhere in the neighborhood, I think, of 100,000 (unwanted) people probably (remaining) in the metropolitan New Orleans area. When Katrina struck, lots of nursing home and hospital deaths occurred, Quigley explained. “The jail was full, 7,000 or so prisoners there without electricity, water, everything…(P)eople (were) stranded on house tops…” Tourist, business and other areas important to New Orleans largely recovered – “100,000 of our sisters and brothers in the African-American community never made it back, ever,” Quigley explained. He lied claiming “(m)y administration is going to stand with you and fight alongside you until the job is done, until (the city) is all the way back. But beyond Katrina, he said, there is probably a “lack of businesses who wanted to locate in an African American community.” City Councilman James A.

But “they may not know what it takes to build a major shopping center and the time that it takes to put a deal like that together.” And there are beacons of hope.

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