Ten years ago Hurricane Katrina brought devastating damage and flooding to New Orleans and surrounding areas. The slow response by the federal government in the aftermath left victims and many Americans alike to question whether race played a role in the delayed aid, as victims were disproportionately black.
A decade later, two new polls find that race continues to remain a powerful force in how residents have experienced recovery. While nearly half of New Orleans inhabitants say the city has mostly recovered from the storm, there is a stark difference between white and black residents’ views.
A Kaiser Family Foundation/NPR poll released in August found that while 70 percent of white residents think the city has mostly recovered, only 44 percent of black residents say the same. The racial divide is apparent in the perceived level of progress made across different areas.
African-American respondents report seeing a lesser degree of progress on jobs, schools, housing, repairs made and safety than white respondents. African-American residents have seen greater progress than white residents, however, in available public transportation and improved medical facilities, and both groups were about even in their perception of progress on crime and safety.
And while both black and white residents see the least progress on controlling crime and public safety, African Americans are more likely to say their neighborhood doesn’t have enough police, that they worry about being a victim to a violent crime, and that they don’t feel a sense of safety from crime in their neighborhood.
All residents do agree, however, that minorities and poorer people were less supported by the recovery efforts than the wealthy, middle-class and white segments of the population. Nearly 4 in 5 respondents say white people received at least some help; slightly less — 3 in 5 respondents — say that African Americans received at least some help. However, respondents are twice as likely to say white people received “a lot” of help than they are to say that black people did.
A second poll conducted by Louisiana State University’s Public Policy Research Lab found a wider split between the perceived level of recovery between white and black residents of New Orleans — 78 percent of whites compared to 37 percent of blacks.
In addition, white respondents reported better living conditions now than before Katrina at a higher rate than black respondents did. Whites were twice as likely as African Americans to say that their overall quality of life is better than it was 10 years ago before Hurricane Katrina.
At the community level, 50 percent of whites report that their living standards are better than before Katrina, while only 13 percent say it’s worse. Comparatively, only 17 percent of blacks say conditions are better in their community now than they were pre-Katrina, and 50 percent say they’re worse. A wide racial gap also exists in how respondents report the economy in their community, career opportunities for young people and whether they think it’s a good time for children to grow up in the city.
Although racial disparities have long been a problem for New Orleans, the Kaiser report notes that the uneven pace of progress between blacks and whites indicates that the storm has exacerbated those existing inequalities.
Despite the racial divides, a majority of both black and white residents say that disaster preparedness is better today than it was before Katrina. A majority of both white and black residents also say they are optimistic about the future of the city.
The NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll surveyed 1,517 adult residents of New Orleans via live phone interviews over landline and cell phone between June 2-5.
The Louisiana State University poll surveyed a subsample of 422 adult residents of New Orleans via live phone interviews over landline and cell phone July 7 through Aug. 10.