Racially Disparate Views of New Orleans's Recovery After Hurricane Katrina

As the 10th anniversary approaches of Hurricane Katrina and the catastrophic levee breaches in New Orleans, a new survey finds a stark racial divide in how residents here view the recovery.

Nearly four out of five white residents believe the city has mostly recovered, while nearly three out of five blacks say it has not, a division sustained over a variety of issues including the local economy, the state of schools and the quality of life.

The survey, which was conducted by the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University, was released on Monday. The hurricane and the failure of the New Orleans levees on Aug. 29, 2005, caused more than 1,800 deaths across the coast and damaged or destroyed more than a million houses and businesses.

There are events large and small all week along the gulf, from panel discussions and volunteer projects to presidential visits and, this being New Orleans, parades. President Obama is scheduled to visit the city on Thursday, while a number of cabinet secretaries are spreading out along the coast to highlight a recovery that has been fueled by billions of dollars in federal assistance.

Former President George W. Bush, who has expressed regret about some facets of his administration’s handling of the disaster, is planning to visit both New Orleans and the Mississippi coast this week, while former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to attend New Orleans’s main event on Saturday — a public commemoration with music, prayer and remembrances by civic and community leaders.

Mr. Obama and many local leaders will be celebrating the accomplishments since the storm, the extraordinary grit of Gulf Coast residents and the efforts to rebuild what was destroyed as something much better.

But the uplifting narrative is not shared by many of those who live here, particularly African-Americans. The L.S.U. survey echoes both what has been quantified elsewhere — such as a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and NPR that also found a racial gap in attitudes — and what is apparent by simply spending time in different neighborhoods around the city.

While a plurality of New Orleans residents rate the quality of life as about the same as before Katrina, the L.S.U. survey reports, more than one-third of blacks say it has gotten worse. The percentage of whites who believe their quality of life has improved, at 41 percent, is more than double the percentage of blacks who say the same thing.

“Look, there are some gains, there are real gains,” said Andre M. Perry, 44, an education consultant who came to the city after Katrina. “But this 10th anniversary in so many ways is dangerous. I think a lot of people are saying, ‘Look at what we’ve done,’ as if the work is finished, and we’re nowhere near finished.”

Black residents, and in particular black women, report a harder time returning and rebuilding their lives after the storm. This is in part because of a couple of hard facts: African-Americans were far more likely to have lived in a flooded part of the city, and places that were worse-hit by the flooding, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, have taken much longer to recover.

That the extent of the flooding is directly connected to the perception of recovery is also reflected outside New Orleans. The survey shows that people in neighboring Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes, both of which were predominantly white and were catastrophically flooded, have even dimmer views of the extent of recovery than the residents of New Orleans.

The poll of 2,195 respondents, both in New Orleans and elsewhere in south Louisiana, was conducted via telephone interviews from July 7 to Aug. 10. The margin of sampling error within the city was plus or minus five percentage points.

The differing views about the state of the city may also reflect a change in the city’s makeup. Any comparison of New Orleans’s population before and after Katrina is complicated, in part because the population was not stable in 2005 but, according to some examinations, on a steady downward trajectory.

But comparisons are also made difficult because many of those here in the city now are not those who left. The L.S.U. survey found that more than a quarter of the city’s current residents had moved here since Katrina. Those who did so were wealthier and more likely to be white and college educated than those who lived here before 2005.

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