Study profiles victims of Katrina
Those who suffered most are black, poor
Thursday, January 26, 2006
By Gwen Filosa
African-Americans and the poor living along the Gulf Coast were
disproportionately victimized by Hurricane Katrina, according to a study
by Brown University due for release today.
While the 16-page report
surveys the entire region, most of it is devoted to New Orleans,
culminating in the prediction that the city is at risk of losing more
than 80 percent of its black population, and 50 percent of its white
residents, if people cannot return to their flood-damaged neighborhoods.
In the city, 75 percent of residents of damaged areas were black, while
in undamaged areas the majority of residents were white, the study
found. Also in damaged areas, 53 percent of residents were renters, more
than 10 percent were unemployed, and 29 percent were poor.
"The continuing question about the hurricane is this: Whose city will be
rebuilt?" Logan said.
About 650,000 people lived in areas that sustained moderate to
catastrophic damage from the hurricane season -- more than a third of
the region's population -- and the study found dramatic social
disparities between that unfortunate lot and those who were spared from
More than 20 percent of the population in damaged areas lived below the
poverty line, compared to 15 percent in undamaged areas.
"The suffering from the storm certainly cut across racial and class
lines," said Brown University sociologist John Logan. "But the odds of
living in a damaged area were clearly much greater for blacks, residents
who rented their homes and poor people. In these respects, the most
socially vulnerable residents also turned out to be most exposed to
Black people were less likely to be homeowners than white people and had
average incomes that were 60 percent lower than white people, making it
more difficult for them to return to their pre-Katrina lives in New
Orleans without assistance, Logan said.
Logan's report is the first of its kind on the disaster zone created
along the Gulf Coast by last hurricane season. It also includes an
extensive analysis on social differences among each of New Orleans' 13
planning districts and 72 neighborhoods.
"There is a general tendency for blacks and poor residents to have
greater odds of being in harm's way, because they lived in less
desirable, low-lying areas," Logan said.
One such neighborhood is the Lower 9th Ward, which pre-Katrina had
19,000 residents, the report said, and was riddled with crime, poverty
and blighted homes. The Lower 9 was 96 percent black, 46 percent were
renters, 34 percent were poor and 13 percent were unemployed.
Residents of the Lower 9 note that the neighborhood had a homeowner rate
of nearly 60 percent, higher than the citywide figure. But in the same
neighborhood, 14 percent of housing units were vacant, a rate 1.4
percent higher than citywide.
Comparatively, the report found that in Lakeview, an area also ravaged
by flooding that 26,000 called home, about 2 percent were black, 34
percent were renters, 6 percent were poor and less than 3 percent were
The findings were based on a combination of U.S. Census data and FEMA
maps of flooding and wind damage. In New Orleans, some affluent white
neighborhoods were hard-hit, while poor minority enclaves were spared,
the study notes. But Logan found that black residents were more likely
to be kept out of the city's recovery stage.
"Policy choices affecting who can return, to which neighborhoods, and
with what forms of public and private assistance, will greatly affect
the future character of the city," Logan said.
Those images of abject poverty that arose immediately after the
hurricane struck, of predominantly black families stranded outside the
Convention Center and the Superdome, were accurate predictions of who
lost the most in the deadly storm, Logan said.
A PDF file of the full report is available at
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Gwen Filosa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504)