The Economy in Numbers:
New Orleans by the Numbers
Rank of New Orleans compared to other large cities with population over 100,000:
Percentage of population that is African-American: 5th
Percentage of population in poverty: 8th
Rank of Louisiana compared to other states:
Percent of population living in poverty areas: 1st
Percent of population born in state of residence: 1st
Lowest median household income: 3rd
Portion of households headed by single women with children: 2nd
Portion of workforce that is unemployed: 3rd
This article is from the March/April 2006 issue of Dollars & Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0306wagneredwards.html
This article is from the March/April 2006 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.
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The city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana were in trouble long before Hurricane Katrina flooded the city and long before the Federal Emergency Management Agency decided that the director's dinner engagements were more important than the plight of hurricane victims running out of food in the Superdome.
The tables below compare the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans to the city as a whole, to the state of Louisiana, and to the United States. The Lower Ninth Ward, very poor and almost entirely Black, was one of the most heavily damaged areas of the city. Its residents, along with tens of thousands of other New Orleanians, have been dispersed around the country.
The glimpse that Census data offer of the city's demographics may offer at least a partial explanation for why the powers-that-be don't seem too upset about what is beginning to look like the permanent dispersal of Katrina's survivors.
|Lower Ninth Ward||99%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF1 P3|
Only four large cities (Gary, Ind.; Detroit, Mich.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Jackson, Miss.) have a larger portion of their population that is Black than New Orleans. The Lower Ninth Ward is 99% Black.
|Own their home|
|Lower Ninth Ward||59%||57%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF1 H14||SF1 H11B|
Black people are less likely than the general population to own their own homes, but home ownership in the Lower Ninth Ward was more prevalent than in either New Orleans as a whole or among Blacks generally. If the government refuses to help the uninsured residents of the Lower Ninth Ward rebuild, it will have destroyed what was actually a shining example of Bush's often touted "ownership society."
|Percent of population||Place of residence, 5 years ago|
|born in the state they live in now||In same house||In same county/ parish||In same state|
|Lower Ninth Ward||92%||74%||97%||98%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF3 P21||SF3 P24||SF3 P24||SF3 P24|
Birthplace & Place of residence five years ago
The United States is generally a mobile society; people move quite frequently. Louisiana, New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward are exceptions to that rule. Despite all the social ills in Louisiana and New Orleans, residents had deep roots and were invested in their communities.
|Education (Adults 25+)|
|Percent without H.S. diploma or GED||Percent with High School / GED only||Percent with at least bachelor's degree|
|Lower Ninth Ward||40%||29%||7%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF3 P37||SF3 P37||SF3 P37|
Residents of New Orleans and of Louisiana are more likely to lack a high school education than residents of the United States as a whole. But New Orleans residents are more likely to have a college education than residents of either the state of Louisiana or the entire country.
However, New Orleans did not invest in all its communities equally. Forty percent of the adult residents of the Lower Ninth Ward lack a high school diploma or GED.
|Median household income||Percent of population in poverty||Percent of population living at less than 1/2 poverty line||Percent of population living at more than 2x poverty line||Percent of children in poverty||Percent of Adults 65+ in poverty|
|Lower Ninth Ward||$19,918||36%||16%||34%||48%||31%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF3 P53||SF3 P87||SF3 P88||SF3 P88||SF3 P87||SF3 P87|
Income & Poverty
The people of New Orleans are poor, and in the Lower Ninth Ward even more so. Poverty is a confusing concept that requires some ex-planation. The federal government sets one national poverty line that is supposed to indicate, for families of various sizes and for individuals living alone, whether they are making enough money to meet basic needs. Based on a 1960s model in which food represented 1/3 of a family's budget, the poverty line was calculated as three times the cost of meeting minimum nutritional needs. People with incomes below that line are determined to be in poverty.
The poverty line is adjusted annually based on inflation, but the model itself has never been revised. The calculation does not take into account regional differences in the cost of living, the additional expenses that families now face (such as child care), or disproportionate cost increases for essentials like housing, heating, and transportation. (See "Ask Dr. Dollar", Dollars & Sense, January/February 2006).
Because the poverty line is set so low, those living at less than 50% of poverty are in extreme, perhaps life threatening, poverty. Even people earning twice the poverty line may barely be getting by. For that reason, many federal and state programs use a multiple of the poverty line (often 125%, 150%, or 185%) to determine eligibility for assistance, and at least one-Massachusetts' Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program-uses 200% of poverty for eligibility. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau does not provide data for poverty ratios above 200%, which would be gin to give us a more useful measure of affluence and discretionary income.
Finally, poverty correlates strongly with age. While the number of children remains frighteningly high, the expansion of assistance pro-grams for the elderly over the last few decades has reduced the percentage of older adults in poverty.
|Percent of households receiving cash assist.||Percent of households in poverty that do not receive cash assist.|
|Lower Ninth Ward||8%||85%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF3 HCT25||SF3 HCT25|
The expansion of the social safety net and cash public assistance programs are responsible for the tremendous decline in the number of elderly living in poverty. The shredding of the social safety net for poor children and adults under 65 has left almost 11 million house-holds with incomes below the poverty line, but with no access to cash assistance.
|Unemployed (civilian labor force, 16+)|
|Lower Ninth Ward||14%||0%||14%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF3 P43||SF3 P150A||SF3 P150B|
Census data aren't as timely as Bureau of Labor Statistics data, but they are the only available source for data at the neighborhood level, such as the Lower Ninth Ward.
|No vehicle available|
|Lower Ninth Ward||32%||0%||33%|
|Source: U.S. Census||SF3 H44||SF3 HCT33A||SF3 HCT33B|
No vehicle available
City-dwellers often do not have cars because they can rely on public transportation, and poor people rarely have cars because they can-not afford them. In the days after Katrina, pundits blamed the residents of New Orleans for not evacuating; they should have looked at the facts to see whether evacuation was even possible.