Katrina: The Facts

by Don Boudreaux on January 7, 2006

in Current Affairs, Myths and Fallacies

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, Karol, Thomas, and I — along with my parents — drove for the first time through the Katrina-ravaged neighborhoods of New Orleans.  We were stunned by the devastation.  Some of my recollections are here.

One surprise was seeing the destruction of the New Orleans’ neighborhood known as Lakeview.  This neighborhood is solidly middle-class and upper-middle-class.  And yet to our eyes the destruction in Lakeview is at least as bad — and probably worse — than the destruction in the Ninth Ward.

And yet I don’t recall hearing or reading any of the national news media report on Lakeview.  Almost all of the reports focused on the much poorer Ninth Ward.  This focus helped to create and perpetuate the now-widely held belief that Katrina’s devastation was visited disproportionately on poor people.  After seeing Lakeview, I began to question that belief.  Now, after reading this column in yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, I not only question, but reject, that belief.

The column — by A. Barton Hinkle — reports findings of a recent study by the Knight-Ridder news agency.  Here’s the meat of Hinkle’s column:

Among other things, Knight-Ridder found:

  • THE MEDIAN income for the New Orleans area was $29,000. The
    median income in neighborhoods where bodies of Katrina victims were
    found was $27,000.
  • One-fourth of the area’s residents lived in Census
    tracts where the median income was $37,000 or higher. One-fourth of
    deaths attributed to Katrina occurred in Census tracts where the median
    income was above $35,300.
  • Thirty-nine percent of New Orleans residents lived in
    neighborhoods where the poverty rate was higher than 30 percent.
    Forty-two percent of the bodies were recovered in those neighborhoods.
  • Thirty percent of residents lived in neighborhoods
    where the poverty rate stood below 15 percent. Thirty-one percent of
    the bodies turned up there.
  • In Orleans Parish, blacks made up 66 percent of the total population, and 62 percent of the victims of Katrina.
  • In St. Bernard Parish, whites made up 88 percent of the residents, and 92 percent of the victims of Katrina.
  • Men made up about 51 percent of the pre-Katrina population of New Orleans, and about 51 percent of the victims of the storm.

These figures belie the assumption that Katrina was not only devastating, but selectively so.

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