Katrina 10 Years Later: New Orleans Disrespects its Black Community

By Sheryl Estrada


Photo by Shutterstock

Saturday will mark 10 years since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the U.S. on Aug. 29, 2005.

It is estimated1,833 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods, and of that total, approximately 1,577 people in Louisiana perished. When the levees failed, 80% of New Orleans was underwater.

In Orleans Parish the geographic area that encompasses the city the mortality rate among Blacks was 1.7 to 4 times higher than that among whites for all people 18 years old and older.

The Urban League of Greater New Orleans announced findings of the report”State of Black New Orleans: 10 Years Post Katrina” on Wednesday when beginning its three-day conference “RISE Katrina 10.” The comprehensive publication established the framework for all conference sessions.

Erika McConduit-Diggs

“When Katrina hit, we saw our poverty and systemic failures displayed nationally and internationally,” President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans Erika McConduit-Diggs told DiversityInc. “We should have a very substantive and intentional conversation about where we are, African Americans in particular, in the years post Katrina.And that’s why we are hosting this conference.”

McConduit-Diggs, 38, is an attorney and native of New Orleans. She was nine months pregnant with her second daughter when Hurricane Katrina reached the city. She and her family evacuated and drove to Houston, Texas. They eventually relocated New York, where she had once lived. In her desire to be a part of the rebuilding process, McConduit-Diggs returned to her hometown in 2008. In 2013, she was selected for her current position with the Urban League.

“State of Black New Orleans”outlines seven key areas the organization believes to be important in the quality of life for African Americans in New Orleans: Education, Workforce and Economic Development, Criminal Justice, Housing, Healthcare, the Environment and Civic Engagement.

According to the report, Blacks still represent the majority of the city’s post-Katrinapopulation:

McConduit-Diggs discussed portions of the research with DiversityInc, including the area of education, which she said garnered “mixed results.”

“Absolutely, education is one of those areas that we have seen tremendous progress in the K-12 sector,” she said. “If you look at our high school graduation rate when Katrina hit, it was roughly 56 percent. Now, in our last graduating class, it’s at about 73 percent. This is a significant difference. We’re certainly doing better with graduating African American young men.”

Urban League

In 2014, 70.7 percent of Black students in New Orleans graduated high school, which is higher than the state average of 67.9 percent.

According to a Schott Foundation for Public Education’s study on Black males and public education, in 2012-13, the gap between Black and white males in Louisiana was smaller than the national average. 69 percent of white Louisiana males graduated, compared to 53 percent of Black males, a 16-point difference. Nationally, 80 percent of white males and 59 percent of Black males graduated, creating a 21-point gap.

Despite gains in secondary public education, McConduit-Diggs said college matriculation and persistence rates for Blacks in New Orleans are not yet promising.

“There’s been very little progress in terms of college-degree attainment,” she said. “What we know is a college degree, be it two-year or four-year, is really what is required for greater social or economic mobility.”

Urban League

The Data Centerstates that, as of 2013, 35 percent of white men had a bachelor’s degree, and 34 percent of white women in the metro area had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“We know there are some young people who are falling through the cracks,”McConduit-Diggs said. “Even though some of our opportunity youth do have a high school diploma, they are not being appropriately connected to workplace opportunities.”

Urban League

“Our childhood poverty rate for African American children under the age of 18 has also increased,” McConduit-Diggs said.

The report states that 35.3 percent of Black families live below the poverty line.There is also a widening gap between white and Black households in median incomes.

In 2005, Blacks earned $23,394 on average, compared to $49,262 for whites. In 2013, the median household income for Blacks only increased to $25,102, compared to $60,553 for whites.

“We have to figure out how to create more economic opportunity for all New Orleanians to start to close these wealth gaps and opportunity gaps,”McConduit-Diggs said.

Urban League

McConduit-Diggs noted a startling statistic: 52 percent of Black men in New Orleans are not employed. This percentage includes the unemployed as well as the non-employed, which she says “means either those incarcerated or who are not connected to the workplace or not registered with an entity specifically looking for a job.”

In regards to housing in general, 78 percent of the pre-KatrinaNew Orleans population count is back, with 88 percent of housing inventory restored. However, Black neighborhoods have been recovering at slower rates than white neighborhoods, “despite the influx of state and federal funding earmarked for recovery.”

The Lower Ninth Ward was one of the hardest hit districts, with 64 to 69 percent of homes severely damaged. Due to decades of residential segregation practice, predominantly Black communities in New Orleans were more susceptible to destruction caused by Katrina.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 54 percent of Black evacuees returned to their pre-Katrina communities, compared with 82 percent of white evacuees. In 2010, the Lower Ninth Ward still experienced population declines of more than 10,000 people.

Kelly D. Owens, Ph.D., writes:

In addition to African American neighborhoods being disparately impacted by the government’s policies and processes, government inefficiencies led to millions of wasted federal tax dollars and lost tax revenue for the city.As recent as 2014, LRA [Louisiana Recovery Authority] was continuing to implement new measures to deal with issues related to applicant compliance and recovery of grant dollars from homeowners due to noncompliance.

Other report findings include:

– The New Orleans metro area is more diverse than in 2000, with a gain of 44,516 Latinos and 6,610 Asian residents.

– 37 percent of renters in New Orleans are paying unaffordable housing costs.

– Since 1999, the Black middle class has decreased by 4 percent, while white middle class increased by 8 percent.

– 1 in 7 Black males in New Orleans are under the supervision of the criminal justice system (prison, parole or probation).

– 60 percent of white people in New Orleans hold management positions more than twice the 27 percent rate for Black people.

– Only 16.7 percent of the New Orleans area businesses are Black-owned, with 4.1 percent of those businesses having paid employees.

– Civicengagement has increased for Blacks in New Orleans.

– An increase in community health centers and the passage of the Affordable Care Act helped counter the closing of Charity Hospital, which reduced access to health care for Black residents.

“State of Black New Orleans” includes essays, editorials and research by local scholars to provide a clear set of recommendations for the continued recovery and development of New Orleans.

“Many people talked about Katrina’s devastation and said ‘Well this is going to be at least a 20-year recovery,'”McConduit-Diggssaid.”We’re at the halfway point. Our recovery is not complete.We are actively tackling some of these major issues that continue to persist in our community.”

A title sponsor of the “RISE Katrina 10” conference is the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.The private foundation, whichhas invested in the city of New Orleans since 1942,receives its income primarily from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Trust and the trust is theKellogg Company’slargestshare-owner. Kellogg isNo. 26on DiversityInc’s 2015 Top 50 Companies for Diversity.

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