One of the positive outgrowths of the devastation is that the New Orleans public school system is substantially improved from its horrible situation in advance of Katrina.
There is evidence of the growing success of the schools in many areas. First, the city attracted a nationally known reformer, superintendent Paul Vallas, and so many teachers that it has 10 applicants for every opening. Second, New Orleans now spends twice as much as it did before Katrina -- $15,500 per pupil –- far above the national average.
The proof is in the pudding: Scores have risen on both state and national exams.
The Obama administration recently provided New Orleans’ HBCU, Southern University, with $32 million to replace four hurricane-damaged buildings.
The Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center summarize their report as follows:
"The nation’s deepening economic recession has produced dissolution and despair across the country as many communities grapple with the social and economic ramifications of massive layoffs, prolonged unemployment, shuttered businesses, and home foreclosures. By contrast, rebuilding from the woes caused by Hurricane Katrina has helped cushion greater New Orleans from the ravages of the downturn. As New Orleans ends its fourth year since the hurricane and levee failures, the region has been buoyed by post-disaster recovery efforts and its fortunate industry mix."The release entitled ‘The New Orleans Anniversary Edition: Four Years after Katrina’, says Congress and the Obama leadership must commit and sustain its partnership with Louisiana state and local leaders by “delivering on key milestones in innovation, infrastructure, human capital and sustainable communities to help greater New Orleans move past 'disaster recovery' and boldly build a more prosperous future”.
The 24-page 'New Orleans Index' documents some key findings that include:
- The New Orleans economy is weathering the recession relatively well due in part to its industry composition. The New Orleans metro area lost 0.9 percent of its jobs since last June, compared to the 4.1 percent lost nationally. The industries hardest hit — manufacturing and construction — comprise relatively small shares of the New Orleans economy and since last June have shed few jobs. The four largest sectors of the region’s economy — trade and transportation, government, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services — either stagnated or added jobs. The New Orleans metro area’s unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent while it climbed to 9.5 percent for the nation.
- Ongoing rebuilding activities are attracting people, jobs, and investments, further shoring up the greater New Orleans economy. New Orleans added more than 8,500 households (actively receiving mail) in the past year, the biggest one-year expansion since 2007, reflecting a mix of new and returning residents. While home rebuilding has slowed dramatically since 2007, post-disaster infrastructure investments in the levee system, schools, police stations and other public facilities have continued apace. Since July 2008, FEMA has paid over $800 million for infrastructure repair projects across the five-parish area. In the city of New Orleans, 94 facilities and public works projects were completed as of April 2009, and 113 more were under construction.
- Yet New Orleans is not immune from the economic crisis. Like many metropolitan areas, the housing market has stalled, with home sales down 39 percent and new construction down 48 percent. The slowdown in consumer spending has contributed to a plunge in city sales tax revenues with 21 percent fewer receipts from general sales, motel/hotel stays, and motor vehicle purchases in April and 6 percent fewer receipts in May compared to the previous year.
- Further, massive blight, affordable housing for low-income workers, and significant flood risk remain the area’s major challenges. While there are fewer unoccupied residences in Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes this year, the scale of blight remains high— 65,888, 14,372, and 11,516 residences, respectively — posing significant challenges for local governments. Steep rent increases have abated, but at 40 percent higher than pre-Katrina, rents remain out of reach for many critical workers. Typical rent for an efficiency apartment is $733 per month, unaffordable for food preparation, health care support, and retail sales workers.
Engineering and construction work rebuilding Louisiana after Katrina has cushioned unemployment at 6.8%. The nation’s rate is 9.4%. Still the state ranks No. 2 in the nation for the highest jobless rate (13.2%) among African Americans and people living in poverty trailing Mississippi, despite billions in post-Katrina recovery dollars.
Nearly a third of the city’s children live in poverty. The vast majority of these children live in single-parent homes; many are being raised by siblings, foster parents or are on their own.
Recently Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) told her congressional colleagues that it is high time to get serious and get beyond just talking about doing something to help the people of New Orleans.
“Four years after Hurricane Katrina we still have individuals living in trailers, seeking additional benefits, dispersed throughout the country in unfamiliar cities, and disconnected from their families, friends and their hometown.”Some online activists feel that we need to take actions that will prevent a future where disasters like Katrina become the norm. They want to see President Obama push for a strong clean energy bill that seeks to correct long-term structural energy issues.
The images from Hurricane Katrina are painful. They remind us that America is willing to abandon an entire city when it was inconvenient to save them. We saw images of desperation, racism and hopelessness.
Nothing happens as quickly as we want. Four years later we see rays of light -- new levees, new buildings, returning residents, grassroots organizers and achieving school children. Methinks that we have a chance to see New Orleans regaining its worldwide gleam if we stay the course.
I would be interested to see what villagers have to say about New Orleans: Four Years After Hurricane Katrina...