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‘Stark’ racial divide in views on post-Katrina recovery, study finds

In new study, 59 percent of African-American residents say Louisiana has ‘mostly not recovered’ since Hurricane Katrina

Residents’ perceptions of New Orleans’ recovery since Hurricane Katrina are “starkly divided” along racial lines, according to new study results released Monday, with 59 percent of African-American respondents saying Louisiana has “mostly not recovered” in the decade since the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Nearly 80 percent of white New Orleans residents, on the other hand, said the state has “mostly recovered.”

Researchers at Louisiana State University surveyed more than 2,000 residents in New Orleans and other parts of southwestern Louisiana by phone in July and August and found that white residents were considerably more positive about the state’s recovery across a range of topics — the economy, the state of public schools and readiness for another storm — than their African-American neighbors.

Over 40 percent of white New Orleans residents and just 20 percent of African-Americans said their quality of life was generally better now than before Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, bursting levees and flooding 80 percent of the city. Almost three-quarters of the city’s occupied housing units were damaged or destroyed, displacing about 1 million people.

Researchers pointed to the city’s post-Katrina demographic shift as a possible explanation for the discrepancy in outlooks between the racial groups. Among the nearly one-quarter of current residents who have moved to New Orleans since Katrina, a majority — 56 percent — are white, and many have relatively high levels of income and education. Only 40 percent of the new residents are African-American, the study found.

Black residents have had a far harder time returning to their homes since the storm, the study found. Whereas 70 percent of white residents were able to do so within one year, only 42 percent of African-Americans could.

A similar racial split was found on the recovery of certain government services, including education. More than half of white residents said public schools are better today than they were before Katrina, when local school districts were some of the poorest performing in the country. But African-American residents indicated they did not see the influx of federal aid making much of a difference in their schools, with most responding that schools were either “about the same” or “worse.”

Perhaps the starkest contrast was on progress in the local economy. Just 1 in 10 African-Americans said things improved since before Katrina, compared with 61 percent of white respondents.

There were a few points of convergence, however. Most people felt their voices were largely ignored as the city rebuilt, with a majority of both African-American and white residents agreeing with the statement “People like me had no say in the rebuilding process.” Most respondents in both groups also agreed that disaster preparedness in their communities is better today.

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