The Aftermath of Katrina Earns Us a Failing Grade

Half the City’s Poor Now Permanently Displaced: The Cleansing of New Orleans
By BILL QUIGLEY

Government reports confirm that half of the working poor, elderly and disabled who lived in New Orleans before Katrina have not returned. Because of critical shortages in low cost housing, few now expect tens of thousands of poor and working people to ever be able to return home.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) reports Medicaid, medical assistance for aged, blind, disabled and low-wage working families, is down 46% from pre-Katrina levels. DHH reports before Katrina there were 134,249 people in New Orleans on Medicaid. February 2008 reports show participation down to 72,211 (a loss of 62,038 since Katrina). Medicaid is down dramatically in every category: by 50% for the aged, 53% for blind, 48% for the disabled and 52% for children.

The Social Security Administration documents that fewer than half the elderly are back. New Orleans was home to 37,805 retired workers who received Social Security before Katrina, now there are 18,940–a 50% reduction. Before Katrina, there were 12,870 disabled workers receiving Social Security Disability in New Orleans, now there are 5350–59% less. Before there were 9425 widowers in New Orleans receiving Social Security survivor’s benefits, now there are less than half, 4140.

Children of working class families have not returned. Public school enrollment in New Orleans was 66,372 before Katrina. Latest figures are 32,149–a 52% reduction.

Public transit numbers are down 75% since Katrina. Prior to Katrina there were frequently over 3 million rides per month. In January 2008, there were 732,000 rides. The Regional Transit Authority says the reduction reflects that New Orleans has far fewer poorer, transit dependent residents.

Figures from the Louisiana Department of Social Services show the number of families receiving food stamps in New Orleans has dropped from 46,551 in June of 2005 to 22,768 in January 2008. Welfare numbers are also down. The Louisiana Families Independence Temporary Assistance Program was down from 5764 recipients (mostly children) in July 2005 to 1412 in the latest report.

While there are no precise figures on the racial breakdown of the poor and working people still displaced, indications strongly suggest they are overwhelmingly African American. The black population of New Orleans has plummeted by 57 percent, while white population fell 36 percent, according to census data. The areas which are fully recovering are more affluent and predominately white. New Orleans, which was 67 percent black before Katrina, is estimated to be no higher than 58 percent black now.

The reduction in poor and low-wage workers in New Orleans is no surprise to social workers. Don Everard, director of social service agency Hope House, says New Orleans is a much tougher town for poor people than before Katrina. “Housing costs a lot more and there is much less of it,” says Everard. “The job market is also very unstable. The rise in wages after Katrina has mostly fallen backwards and people are not getting enough hours of work on a regular basis.”

The displacement of tens of thousands of people is now expected to be permanent because there is both a current shortage of affordable housing and no plan to create affordable rental housing for tens of thousands of the displaced.

In the most blatant sign of government action to reduce the numbers of poor people in New Orleans, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is demolishing thousands of intact public housing apartments. HUD is spending nearly a billion dollars with questionable developers to end up with much less affordable housing. Right after Katrina, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson predicted New Orleans was “not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.” He then worked to make that prediction true.

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