In Context

Daniel Wolff, I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful producer and author of The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back, describes Hurricane Katrina as more of an acceleration of the history of New Orleans than a turning point. The storm illuminated systemic problems that had existed in New Orleans for decades, and the city's geographic vulnerabilities, social inequalities and lack of support systems set the stage for a long and difficult recovery.

The population of New Orleans had been on a steady decline for nearly a half-century before Hurricane Katrina. According to the 2010 census, New Orleans had lost more than 140,000 residents from 2000 to 2005, reflecting a 29 percent drop from its peak of 600,000 in 1960. This was largely due to the high crime rate and lack of jobs in the city and ultimately resulted in thousands of abandoned homes and vacant businesses, driving median rent down to approximately $650 a month. Before Katrina, half of the city's residents lived in households with incomes of less than $25,000 a year and nearly a quarter were living at or below the poverty line. New Orleans ranked second among the nation's 50 largest cities in terms of the number of neighborhoods it had in extreme poverty. New Orleans also ranked second in the United States in terms of the gap between rich and poor.

Despite New Orleans' vulnerabilities the city was (and has long been) critical to the nation's economy. The cargo that flows through the Port of New Orleans creates $37 billion in economic output annually and close to 380,000 jobs in the United States depend on goods handled by the Port of New Orleans. In addition, southern Louisiana rivals the Persian Gulf in the number of natural gas and oil refineries and its fishing industry is one of the largest in the United States, responsible for 40 percent of all seafood consumed by Americans each year.

Caption: Industrial canal in the Lower Ninth Ward
Credit: Courtesy of I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful

» Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.
» House Committee on Ways and Means. "Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Trade."
» Hylton, Hilary. "The Gangs of New Orleans." Time, May 14, 2006.
» Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "In the Wake of Katrina: The Continuing Saga of Housing and Rebuilding in New Orleans."
» Landphair, Juliette. "'The Forgotten People of New Orleans': Community, Vulnerability, and the Lower Ninth Ward." The Journal of American History, 94, 837-845, December 2007.
» Lewis, Peirce F. New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape. Santa Fe: The Center for American Places, 2010.
» RAND Gulf States Policy Institute. "Tracing the Effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Population of New Orleans."
» University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "State of the Ninth Ward: An Analysis of the Ninth Ward Since Hurricane Katrina."