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Hullabaloo


Monday, August 28, 2006

 
Diaspora Lemonade

by digby




Jonathan Alter writes in this week's Newsweek:

A year ago, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, NEWSWEEK published a cover story called "Poverty, Race and Katrina: Lessons of a National Shame." The article suggested that the disaster was prompting a fresh look at "The Other America"—the 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. "It takes a hurricane," I wrote. "It takes the sight of the United States with a big black eye—visible around the world—to help the rest of us begin to see again." I ended on a hopeful note: "What kind of president does George W. Bush want to be? ... If he seizes the moment, he could undertake a midcourse correction that might materially change the lives of millions. Katrina gives Bush an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China opportunity, if he wants it."

Some readers told me at the time that this was naive—that the president, if not indifferent to the problems of black people, as the singer Kanye West charged, was not going to do anything significant to help them. At first this seemed too cynical. The week after the article appeared, Bush went to Jackson Square in New Orleans and made televised promises not only for Katrina relief but to address some of the underlying struggles of the poor. He proposed "worker recovery accounts" to help evacuees find work by paying for job training, school and child care; an Urban Homesteading Act that would make empty lots and loans available to the poor to start over, and a Gulf Enterprise Zone to spur business investment in poor areas. Small ideas, perhaps, but good ones.

Well, it turned out that the critics were largely right. Not only has the president done much less than he promised on the financing and logistics of Gulf Coast recovery, he has dropped the ball entirely on using the storm and its aftermath as an opportunity to fight poverty. Worker recovery accounts and urban homesteading never got off the ground, and the new enterprise zone is mostly an opportunity for Southern companies owned by GOP campaign contributors to make some money in New Orleans. The mood in Washington continues to be one of not-so-benign neglect of the problems of the poor.


It's not neglect. It's design. The Republicans took a hit for their incompetence in handling Katrina, but in the long run they stand to benefit greatly from the African American displacement outside the state. The reconstruction delays and "not so blind" neglect serve the goal of a much lower black population in New Orleans. Louisiana is likely to be a deep red state from now on.

Perhaps that sounds too cynical, just as the idea that Bush would do nothing significant to help the poor victims sounded cynical last year. But after Bush vs Gore and the Texas gerrymandering and the California recall and voter disenfranchisement and on and on, I think it's incredibly naive to think they wouldn't make lemonade out of the Katrina lemon. The modern Republican party is deadly serious about electoral politics and nothing is too cynical for them.

The Institute of Southern Studies has sponsored a project called Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch which has just put out an in depth report on the state of the Gulf and New Orleans and it's fascinating.

The first part deals with the diaspora:

Hurricane Katrina had an enormous impact on Gulf Coast communities from Alabama to Louisiana, with about 1.2 million people under evacuation orders before the storm made landfall. More than 1,500 people died as a result of the hurricane, and at least 135 are still missing. Besides killing hundreds of people, Katrina displaced thousands. According to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau in June, southern Louisiana today is home to 344,781 fewer people today than before the hurricane. Evacuees were scattered to more than 700 communities throughout the United States, with some landing more than 4,000 miles from home. Life in the diaspora has been difficult for many, with survivors facing problems finding steady jobs and secure housing. Many survivors—both those who left their homes and those who remained behind—are also struggling with serious mental health problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A disproportionate number of those whose lives were devastated by Katrina were poor and African-American people, many of whom faced intensified discrimination in the chaos that followed Katrina. Perhaps nowhere was that more apparent than in what happened on the Mississippi River bridge from New Orleans to Gretna, La. Soon after the storm, largely African-American crowds began to cross the bridge after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin promised that buses were waiting on the other side. But police from Gretna, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office and the Crescent City Connection (a division of the state Department of Transportation and Development), blocked their way, even firing shots over the heads of desperate storm victims. That tragic incident sparked one of the first civil rights protests following the storm, when on Nov. 8 activists from New Orleans and other U.S. communities marched across the bridge following a rally at the Convention Center, where thousands of residents had suffered through inhuman conditions in the days after the storm.

The race and class divides exposed by last year’s hurricanes continue to manifest in the recovery. While many middle-class people and whites were able to summon the resources to return and rebuild, that task has been more difficult for poor people and people of color. That unfortunate reality is illustrated in statistics that have been released since Katrina showing a decline in the percentage of New Orleans’ African-American population as well as an increase in income among those who have returned.

For historically disadvantaged communities throughout the Gulf, Katrina continues to rage a year later.


Demographics Index

Number of persons Hurricane Katrina displaced from Louisiana: 645,000 to over 1.1 million

Number displaced from Mississippi: 66,000 to several hundred thousand

Total number of applicants for FEMA Individual Assistance for Katrina and Rita: 2,560,230

Estimated number of storm-displaced Gulf residents who were ages 65 and older: 88,000

Estimated number of U.S. communities to which storm victims evacuated: 724

Average distance traveled by evacuees from Chalmette, a largely white community in St. Bernard Parish, La.: 193 miles

Average distance traveled by evacuees from the Lower Ninth Ward, a largely African-American community in New Orleans: 349 miles

Estimated percentage of the New Orleans metro area’s pre-storm population of about 460,000 that had returned as of June 30: 37

Percent of the New Orleans area’s pre-storm population that was African-American: 36

Percent of the New Orleans area’s post-storm population that is African-American: 21

Increase since Katrina in the New Orleans area’s prestorm mean household income of $55,000: $9,000

Percent decline since Katrina in single-mother households with children in the New Orleans area: 43


Housing Index


Percent of Louisiana mortgages past due as of July 2006: 20

Percent of Mississippi mortgages past due: 13

National average for percent of past-due mortgages: 4

Average rent for a one-bedroom New Orleans apartment before Katrina: $578

Average rent for a one-bedroom New Orleans apartment as of July 2006: $803

Occupancy rate of livable apartments in New Orleans: 99 percent

Number of mobile homes ordered for the Gulf Coast: 7,737

Number of smaller travel trailers : 105,927

Number of storm-affected households holding Federal Emergency Management Agency hotel vouchers: 39

Number of storm-affected households approved for housing assistance: 946,597

Minimum percent of New Orleans public housing that is still closed: 80

Number of homes the Army Corps of Engineers has demolished in Louisiana since Katrina: 1,105

Minimum number of New Orleans public housing units scheduled for demolition: 5,000

Months after Katrina that federal money for housing reconstruction was approved: 10

Total federal funds dispersed so far to rebuild homes: $0


Interestingly, the Gulf Coast now has a higher African American population than it did before, although I doubt it has the electoral significance that an intact black community in New Orleans had. Still, it will be interesting to see if the whites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast start getting antsy about this state of affairs and if it will affect Mississippi politics.



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